Steph Hon: Founder & CEO of Cadence

Episode 378

Steph Hon, Founder and CEO of the very awesome brand Cadence shares with us all about the journey in building their first product line, the Capsule System. This early stage startup has crafted a modular collection of magnetic, sustainable, TSA-compliant, and leak proof Capsules that let you store your must-have items from liquids in your medicine cabinet to jewelry. Steph took an idea that she was passionate about and turned it into an excellent business with products that are awesome. You will love hearing all about her journey including the twists and turns of becoming a new entrepreneur with plenty of great insights and lessons too. This episode is filled with so much inspiration and takeaways you won’t want to miss it! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m so thrilled to have my next guest. Here we have Steph Hon, who is the founder and CEO of Cadence. And if you don’t know what Cadence is, you are going to be so excited to learn about this amazing, amazing company. Or maybe you’ve come across it and you hadn’t thought about different opportunities on how you might want to use this system. So cadence launched in 2020, with its first product line, the capsule system, modular collection of magnetic, sustainable, TSA compliant and leak proof capsules that let you store your must have items from your medicine cabinet, jewelry box and cosmetics bag or stash box. So you can move through the world with ease and confidence. And like I said, Cadence is awesome and is made also from diverted ocean bound plastic, which I absolutely love. I think it’s super great that Steph took an idea that she was passionate about that she was curious about and turned it into an excellent business with products that are really, really usable. And I’m excited to hear all about her journey and learn more about maybe the twists and turns along the way, but kind of where they’re going as well. So welcome staff.

Steph Hon 2:05
Thank you for having me, Kara. It’s a pleasure.

Kara Goldin 2:07
Really great. So before we get into hearing about cadence, your journey and building it I and all of the lessons, I would love to hear more about what you were doing before this i i read a little bit about your experience, but I’d love for you to share.

Steph Hon 2:26
Absolutely. So before Cadence, which feels like a another lifetime at this point. My background was in the dance world, and also the documentary film space. So I grew up and went to college for a number of things. I was a double major in dance and psychology with a business minor, and in school focused on dance for film. So I really accidentally fell into a directorial type of role I was the gather of phenomenal people with a variety of talents. And I didn’t realize even how much I loved it until then. And I’m very grateful that I happen to fall into that position. I feel like no one talks about being a director when you’re young and growing up, you don’t even know that’s a job you can have. And so again, that was what I studied. And then after school, I went to the documentary film space. So I worked for a company that would bring together marketing pieces for companies like Red Bull, Patagonia, the north face, and we’d also put on an international film tour across the world, with major athletes coming together to celebrate in core cities. So I started off as an assistant editor and worked my way up to lead editor. So it was a really incredible experience. And it was my first foray into the startup space. So I really feel like my background is a testament of how do you figure out how to grow, learn and teach yourself and thrive in an incredibly fast paced environment. I was actually just chatting about this with my team, a number of my teammates, took almost the opposite route. You know, they went to got there. They went and got their MBA, then they went to large corporation, another one. And it was all about how do you climb this really clear ladder in front of you, which has its own merits? Of course, for me, I was trying to figure out where is the ladder and how do you climb it? And so that was my background and it was such a wonderful education in creativity, how to problem solve, and how to you know, hustle really hard.

Kara Goldin 4:47
That’s amazing. And how did this idea for capsules come up?

Steph Hon 4:54
So at the time I was on the road lot with our athletes for these shows. I was also working really late and having to travel quite often. And so, I found that as someone with a skincare and supplement routine that I really adore and have put a lot of time and effort into, it was a stress point for me before I packed before I left my house, I would have to schedule an hour to figure out, how do I fill up these really cheaply made travel bottles that I don’t really trust. And I have to write on Sharpie on them that had shampoo inside this one, and fill my expensive serum and another. So it’s a hassle is a headache. And these are products that are just here to ground me and make me feel like myself. And yet they were they were nearly impossible to bring in totality with me. So long story short, I found myself using a lot of single use plastic, which felt very anti my morals as a person, especially someone who is so rooted in the outdoor space constantly. spending time outdoors as well, and leaving products behind. So there is the personal side. And then there was the soul side that was missing from this product experience. And I tried for years to search for every and any product in the market that would solve this problem for me. And I really just came up short time and time again. And eventually I got to the point where I went, there has to be something better and there’s not so I’m gonna figure out how to build it myself. And that was the impetus for everything cadence. And it started off as this initial problem of my personal routine. But then I got really inspired by the fact that routine can mean so many things to different people it can be how do you pack for your kids or your your pets, your pets? And how do you organize your home in a way when guests come over. Or if you have a medication system that you need to really keep a hold of how do you organize it in a way that doesn’t weigh you down and make you feel like you have something heavy in your bag and in the back of your mind. And so all of that really became our thesis, which is we all spend so much time on our broad idea of what routines are for us. But yet we have no beautiful, sustainable, innovative through lines for how to then transport these routines on the go. And on the go can mean out to the day for the beach for a beach trip, or it can mean a work trip or you know, a month long honeymoon, whatever that means to you and your life is what we’re here to here to help.

Kara Goldin 7:42
That’s awesome. So it’s one thing to be curious and maybe frustrated by not having an item that you felt you needed. I definitely have had those moments. But it’s another thing to bring a product to market a physical product to so not a service, but a physical product, which has a lot of other stuff that you have to think about. And you were a filmmaker and a dancer. And now you’re an entrepreneur launching a company in the sustainable base. So How hard has it been also, you launched it during the pandemic. So you didn’t know that was coming? Obviously, that was a, you were thinking about the idea of prior to the pandemic actually being upon us. But what has been probably the most challenging that you would share with a friend.

Steph Hon 8:35
You know, coming from a non startup space is really interesting. And I’m very grateful for it now. Because I probably would have told you four years ago had you asked me when I was quitting my full time job finally going out to raise money for the first time. You know, I’d been working on it for two years at that point simultaneously to my full time job. And while I was working on the side, I probably would have told you raising money has been the hardest part, the idea of getting people who are used to investing in products for the most part, there are amazing investors out there. But the majority of investors, I realized then want to invest in things that already exist. And we were doing something very different. We were building a company that was completely new. The products we were launching didn’t exist. They there was nothing and is nothing like it on the market. And so we’re we’re coming to people and saying, Hey, we’re building and inventing something new, this idea of a system that works together, right? We’re not a travel bottle company. We’re not a container company. We’re a company that builds cohesive systems for any part of your routine and we’re starting in the bathroom with this one really, really clear problem. And time and time again we got people Woohoo, we’re so much more interested in a rebrand of products that we’re all so used to and familiar with, which is another, again, great business model, a different one than we are building. But I would have said that was the hardest part. But it has really become a blessing because the investors that we ended up with worthy innovators, which is why a majority of our investors, our founders themselves, the people who see and hear a vision and immediately understand it, they don’t have to have seen it done already to believe it. And so that was a really tough thing. But it led us to the right people. And it led us to building our business with the right spine and backbone, which is a deep ability to be creative. We have investors who trust us to run the business, in the way we believe in needs to be run, which allows us to actually invest in products wholeheartedly. We are not cranking products out to meet top line so that our investors can feel good for that quarter. Our investors know we have a very specific strategy and growth trajectory. And because of that, every cohesive part of our environment really clicks to make cadence, what what it is. That’s fine. You know, there have been so many there have been so many moments. I feel like it’s such a great question. I appreciate you asking it. Because I remember listening to podcast as I was building cadence, and I wish people would talk about the hard parts more. It’s never what it seems, you know, you always see these headlines of people raising these big rounds. And now that I have so many founder friends in the space, the real The reality is, you know, is it’s always cobbled together, it’s done and achieved over months, not a day. There are amazing friends that I’ve had where that has happened, and they’re phenomenal. But whatever it is, and whatever part of the businesses, it is they’re always challenges. I mean, I remember going through 10 engineers in the beginning, because everyone told us our products couldn’t be made and sitting in my car and shedding a tear or two when our 10th engineer quit on me at 10pm. And I had to go back to my full time job to finish work. Right. So I mean, there have been so many so many moments like that.

Kara Goldin 12:19
Yeah, that’s wild. So when you say you have engineers on staff, you we talk a bit about you’ve got some patents, and you filed for some things as well. But are the engineers? Are they product engineers? Or are they like, what kind of engineers do you actually have on staff?

Steph Hon 12:39
Yes, so we have industrial engineers and mechanical engineers. So the first teammate that I ever brought on was our lead of engineering Graham, who is phenomenal. He was after the 10 engineers said, No, he was the one who said yes, and he helped bring everything to life. So he’s been my partner in crime from, you know, the early early days. And for us, it’s all engineers, our in house, our industrial designers, our in house, we do our fulfillment in house, which again, makes cadence very unique and that we’ve brought in all of these things that are in can often be typically outsourced. So it is something that we are very proud of, and it makes us who we are.

Kara Goldin 13:25
That’s amazing. How did you come up with the name cadence?

Steph Hon 13:29
Names are so tough if you can’t rush it, as you know, I mean, it’s a it was a process. It took about six months, I did a number of focus groups. I love getting inspired by the people around me and the words that come to their mind as they think about their day. Someone during one of these focus groups, I believe the prompt was, what are words that come to mind as you’re, you know, waking up in the morning and maybe getting to your office and then maybe hopping on a flight later? What are words that come to you. And so someone wrote down in a post it note cadence, and it really struck me, what I loved about it is it’s neutral, which is very true to cadence and that it should make you feel calm when you say it. There’s no inflection, just cadence. It also was a perfect word for our brand beliefs and our values, which is that everyone has their own lifestyle, their own routines. And we are not here to change any of that. We’re just here to make their uniqueness easier to bring with them. So we believe that good brands and products don’t change your behavior. It shouldn’t force you to modify anything in your life. Because it is that way for a reason. We believe that we should just fit around everything you build so seamlessly and cohesively and hopefully in Our goal is to always bring peace of mind that folks can stay in rhythm, right? Everyone has a different rhythm can be this way can be more calm, but you do have it and it’s consistent. And we’re here to help you maintain it.

Kara Goldin 15:13
Well, it’s interesting, those are the best products, right? The ones that solve problems, the ones that consumers didn’t even know, that they needed. I mean, Steve Jobs probably set it back best, like don’t ask the consumer what they want. Just show them what they need. And I think that that is, I think about that a lot. And, and I think you’re definitely doing that as well. So you’ve developed, I would say, a new category, in addition to dealt developing products are and you know, you’ve you’ve kind of got competition and sort of these products that are not as good as yours, obviously. But how, how would you explain to people like the complexities of launching something that you don’t have competition? I mean, you no one’s exactly doing what you’re doing. Like, I always talk about this, when I was launching hint that, you know, there were planted grounds that were in stores, there was a there was we didn’t fit in the planet ground. So when people said, okay, my planogram has water and diet soda and regular soda and enhance water, and juice, where do you fit? And I’m like, Oh, we’re better. There’s, you know, nothing like our product that is an unsweetened flavored water. And they were, I said, just give us some of their space. And they’re like, No, we can’t do that. And so it’s that much harder, I think, to actually get traction. For an entrepreneur when you’re launching something totally new. That is really a new category. But I’d love to hear your perspective.

Steph Hon 17:00
Absolutely. I feel like we view ourselves often as our biggest challenge, we are so picky. We are so obsessive and detail oriented. So there’s so many people out there, who are always inventing and building but we were always aware of what’s going on. But for us, we are just so focused on getting it right that we can put our heads down and sleep well at night. We call it peace of mind, update that cadence, just tell me what I need to do and what we where we need to be for peace of mind. everyone on our team has that internal fire. And that is how we hire we are very slow in our hiring process. Because everyone on our team does it so that they can sleep and feel good and feel proud people who are just proud of their work and love to do the work that they do. And that leads to being able to innovate difficult product. And I appreciate the question, how do we explain the complexity of a product that, hopefully to the consumer should not feel complex at all, I always think of the example of watching a ballerina dance, you’re watching and you’re just enamored by the beauty of it, but have no idea and you can’t empathize enough with how difficult and strong that ballerina dancer needs to be. Because they make it look so easy. And so that’s our goal, always with the product. What makes one of the things that makes it really difficult is the fact that we are really checking off these boxes that haven’t been able to be checked before you and I were chatting before. You know, we started this and we were talking about how, and you were sharing with me about you know, putting some water in certain containers you needed and that they were leaking immediately. And that number one was our first focus, how can we actually actually actually stand by 100% leak proof product? And so we had to innovate a new overing system a seal that would be airtight no matter if you were in an aeroplane, or if you left in your car in cold weather environment or if it was super hot and wanted to expand. So how do you make something that is incredibly leak proofed for the first time without restrictions because with a lot of these products typically you can’t put your serum or your Moroccan oil in it or anything that can get absorbed into silicone because a lot of our products typically before Kadence are made of silicone which actually is porous and can leach product into the walls which is why when taken on an airplane it can expand and grow for us. How can we make something completely universal? You should not need to read fine print before you fill your routine and our products. So 100% leak proof product but Then how do you make a product that’s also very, very durable, while also using as much post consumer material as possible. So that was really important to us is to reuse material that already exists. So for us, it’s 20%, ocean bound plastic 30% regrind, we waste no scrap material and already factoring process and then the other 50% is virgin materials so that we can make our products durable enough to last a lifetime. So when you mix the durability, with the industrial seal, with the fact that it has to be universal for any product, you know, as you’re I’m sure familiar with when, you know, L’Oreal comes out with moisturizer, they environmental test that one product in so many different scenarios. And for us, it’s an every product that possibly exists in the world. So we’ve done so much testing. And then of course, the fact that our products are magnetic, systematic, it’s we’ve had to reinvent the manufacturing process, which is why our manufacturers are also our investors, which we are very, very grateful for. They’re highly invested in their long term success. So it’s layer after layer of complexity that I hope, and I’m sure customers don’t see when they’re using and experiencing the product.

Kara Goldin 21:22
Yeah, and they I know that there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and I think you’ve done a great job of producing a product that is just awesome. So how do you you touched on supply chain and sustainable supply chain? So how do you find obviously, you didn’t come from this industry? How do you find this plastic that is kind of getting to you before it, it makes it into? Hopefully not the ocean, but I mean it into the garbages? Or, you know, wherever?

Steph Hon 21:57
Yes, that would have been something I shared with a friend prayer earlier question. That was a really tough thing. In the early days, I remember being so frustrated, no one would sell us post consumer plastic. And I was banging my head against the wall. Because why start a business without sustainable practices. Let’s start as strongly as we can from day one and always get better. And when I found out early on is a lot of these companies just don’t want to sell to small companies. It’s not, it hasn’t been something they worked on their business model yet. And that’s no knock to those companies are doing the best that they can, but it was very frustrating nonetheless. So we happened across a company called Envision plastics. And I always shout their name from the rooftops because it was very hard for me to find this company. So I hope I can make it maybe a little bit easier for one other person out there to use postconsumer material and envision plastics is a wonderful company, they work with a company that employs locals in different places around the world. So for example, for us, our majority of our material comes from Baja. And so the plastic on beaches gets collected, and it is called ocean plastic because 80% of the plastic that is on beaches will eventually end up in the ocean. So it’s almost like shutting off the faucet instead of trying to collect water Let’s prevent plastic from even entering the ocean so that we don’t hopefully in the future have to collect plastic out of the ocean that then gets shipped to North Carolina, California reground to these little lentil like pellets, and then that gets brought to our manufacturers and we manufacture in both Thailand and Canada. So that’s where we get our material from and the rest is the manufacturing scrap in terms of our post consumer plastic portion of our products.

Kara Goldin 23:50
That’s amazing. So you have a new product coming out but that is very exciting. Do you want to share a little bit about that?

Steph Hon 23:59
Absolutely. So three years later, we are ready to launch our next product. It has been in the pipeline for four plus years it has been a manufacturing feats. What I can share is that for those folks who have routines that expand from skincare to haircare to body care and supplements. This is just great for truly everyone and every product type for trips that are four or five, six weeks long to a very, very short day trip out. So we’re so excited to be bringing this series to life. It’s been truly a labor of love.

Kara Goldin 24:42
No, it’s great. And it will you’re currently online. But it’s your you’re working on further distribution and other great stores hopefully some of those stores are listening to. So this product is is really really great. So well Last question, best advice that you’ve ever received, whether it’s from somebody even before launching cadence? Or you know, you’ve got a bunch of founders that are investors and kind of around you, I’d be so curious to hear, you know, was there a piece of advice that really stood out?

Steph Hon 25:22
Yes. One of our advisors is the co founder of Netflix, Mark Randolph and Mark’s early advice to me, which I’ve never forgotten is the culture starts from the founder. And the first 10 people get their culture from the founder, and then the next 90 get their culture from that first 10. I’ve never forgotten that because it is led to an incredible culture at cadence. It’s something that I didn’t realize that you have to work so hard and make every every decision you make from the beginning leads to leads to that. And the two most important parts of any business that I always say, is product and the people you have one does that exist without the other? And that has led to policies like a no no asshole policy, apologies for that. But kindness, curiosity, those the things we look for and spend so much time vetting for during our interview process. So that has always stuck with me.

Kara Goldin 26:29
I love it. Well, thank you so much. We’ll have all the information for Caden’s in the show notes so people can definitely hop online and buy and thank you everyone for listening stuff. Good luck with everything you are off to a terrific start. And you’re definitely a very, very inspiring entrepreneur and definitely appreciate you coming on and sharing so much with us.

Steph Hon 26:54
Oh, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Kara Goldin 26:58
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book undaunted, which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and good bye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening