Episode 01
Bite Toothpaste—Founder & CEO, Lindsay McCormick

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Every episode we talk to founders and leaders at some of the most exciting DTC brands in the world. We discuss their vision, how they launched, and how they are growing their brand.

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In this episode, we talk with Lindsay McCormick, CEO and Founder of Bite — Toothpaste Bits. Her company is reinventing toothpaste — fully sustainable dry tablets (instead of the paste most of us are used to).

How did she start?

She was working as a TV producer for House Hunters (yeah, the TV show). She was travelling all over the country, and soon realized that she was going through those little plastic tubes at a rapid pace. That didn’t line up with her values—conservation and sustainability. So she did something about it..

She’s not a chemist. She had to learn all about making toothpaste. She credits her deep knowledge with free online chemistry courses that she has enrolled in over the years. #hustle.

She tells us about the initial burst in demand, marketing, and fundraising.

Balancing profitability, customer experience, and sustainability is a large task. Lindsay shares some practical ways that she uses to keep her mentally and physically well.

You can place an order, and learn more at Bite Toothpaste Bits: bitetoothpastebits.com/

Thanks for listening!

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I’m excited because today we’re talking to Lindsay McCormick, founder and CEO at Bite Toothpaste. Lindsay, thanks for joining us.

Lindsay: Thanks for having me, Roger.

So, the hero text on your website says that you’re reinventing toothpaste. Can you tell us more?

Lindsay: Yeah, absolutely. So, Bite Toothpaste Bits are dry tablets that come in glass bottles that are fully recyclable. But even better, they’re meant to be kept end refilled with our compostable refill packets.

The great thing about a dry tablet, as opposed to a wet sticky paste, is that when you take the water out of something, you actually don’t have to have all of the harsh chemicals, preservatives, stabilizers that are in most commercial toothpaste, not necessarily to clean your teeth, but actually to keep the microbes and bacteria from growing in that water; like in that moist environment.

So, when we put out a dry tablet, it ends up being a much more clean ingredient, cleaner product and sold in a totally sustainable way.

Why do you think the world needed your product?

Lindsay: I didn’t set out to start a company. I was working as a TV producer for the show, House Hunters on HGTV, and I was flying all around the country, filming in small towns and big cities all over the place.

And I was going through those little toothpaste tubes really, really fast because I was always traveling, carrying on only. And I try to live a life that’s sustainable and conservation is always at the forefront of my mind. And I realized doling out these little toothpaste tubes just didn’t align with my values. I don’t use plastic water bottles. I try to make these ecofriendly decisions.

And so, I wanted to find an alternative. And when I looked online and in stores for something, everything was either packaged in plastic or had ingredients that I couldn’t get behind. So, like I started like really reading about what’s in toothpaste and why it’s in there and I was like, “Why am I putting that in my body?”

So, that was kind of the beginning of Bite and why I felt like we needed to have a more sustainable and cleaner solution. I think right now, people are starting to question what they’re putting in their bodies and they’re questioning the impact that it’s having on the planet and they’re looking for new products and new companies that are really trying to solve those big problems as well.

You’ve made sustainability a key focal point in all of your business decisions; from the bottles you send out, the envelopes you use, the boxes, the refills. How are you making sure that you see environmentally friendly even as you grow?

Lindsay: Oh, thanks for noticing that. And yeah, it is a lot of work. I see that, as the CEO of this company, my full time job. I’m constantly, not only, you know, every single day, we’re showing choices of something that’s cheap and easy and not as sustainable or more expensive, harder and we have to create like an entire new thing for it, but it is more sustainable. And so, those are just the choices that we just continually make and putting the planet first.

And I think that for me, coming at it from trying to be an advocate, not necessarily an entrepreneur, that’s always just been my main concern. And so, what’s been really great as Bite continues to grow is the problems get bigger and more challenging, but then also like the opportunity for solutions are also bigger and there’s so much more opportunities.

So, for us, it’s just constantly asking our manufacturer, “Why can’t you work with glass?” “What can we do to make you work with glass?” “And how do we streamline these processes?” And the more that we do it, the more other companies that come in behind us or along with us, we’ll have an easier time as well.

We haven’t even talked about shipping yet. But even there, you’re thinking of the planet.

Lindsay: Yeah. I mean, you have to. When you’re trying to build a real sustainable brand (and that is what we are doing), you have to look at every single thing that you touch. And for us, it’s not just clean ingredients, it’s not just fully recyclable bottles and refill packets, it’s also what is our carbon footprint as a company?

Like as a company, we compost in our facilities. Food waste is a huge contributor to the landfill. So, we compost. Like we have to live by what we are asking our customers to live by.

And one of those was also making the really hard decision of do we offer same day or two-day shipping, which is what so many customers are used to, but it’s actually the most harmful way that you can send something to the environment, basically, because what happens is that when you buy something two-day, it has to come from the warehouse. It goes on to an airplane and it has to be delivered directly to your house. So, there’s so much of a hefty carbon footprint that goes with that whole process.

As opposed to ours, which we use pre-existing shipping routes. And these are slow, right? So, once you place an order from us, it goes to our warehouse. They pack it. It goes in bulk to a sorting facility, which is already there’s going to be so many orders going to that facility anyways, that’s kind of just hitching a ride.

It gets sorted and then goes in bulk to the houses and it gets brought to your house by USPS who’s going to be coming by every single day anyway. So, it’s basically just hitching a ride. And this is a way slower way for something to get there, but it’s a significant drop in your carbon footprint from door to door.

And so, actually, there’s an M.I.T. study that we reference on our site. And one of the reasons that I had a gut feeling about this, but then seeing the numbers in real life, I was like, “Oh, great. And people at M.I.T. are way smarter than me. And they were the ones figuring this out.”

They showed that not only is shipping through existing postal routes less of a carbon footprint than two-day, but it’s actually even less of a carbon footprint than driving to the store and buying the item that you have to pay.

Because if you think about it, you’re getting in your car, you’re driving to the store, you’re buying it, and then you’re driving home. And there’s also a bunch of work that got the toothpaste there to that store to begin with.

So, when you start looking at that, it seems a little counterintuitive in some ways, but it is the most sustainable way, as long as you’re using those slow, existing postal routes.

Typically, you’d think that longer shipping times means less satisfied users because shipping is part of the overall product experience. How are you communicating to consumers so that they know that upfront and it doesn’t impact your ability to serve them well?

Lindsay: There’s a lot of education that goes into everything that we do because I think a lot of people really want easy, snappy answers. But when you start looking at what actually are the right choices a lot of time when it comes to sustainability, there’s a lot of explanation and understanding that has to go into it.

So, what we do is once you place an order with us, first of all, we say on our site that we don’t, you know, unless it’s like a dire circumstance or if you e-mail us and you really, really need it fast, okay, we can try to work something with you, of course.

But for anybody else and for anybody who’s not in a crazy rush, we setup that it’s going to take longer. And then once you place your order, we send an email saying… I believe it’s called like “The Art of Sustainability” or “Why We Chose Sustainability.” But you’ll get an email from us explaining why it’s taking longer and why we made the choice that we made.

And I think for us, like, we really do a lot of work to be really transparent and to make sure that our customers know that we are, of course, putting our customers first, but for our customers, we’re putting the planet first, really. That’s what we are. And hopefully our customers want that as well.

And so, we’ve had actually a really positive response. So, a lot of people, it’s a little bit jarring for them because they’re so used to the Amazon Prime and like the two-day shipping of the world. But good things come to those who wait. We get a lot of fun Instagram messages about that as well. And they get it; they understand that it’s education and also having a customer that is in alignment with your values as well as a company.

Can you tell us a little bit about the history of toothpaste? Because I did not know that toothpaste was not always paste.

Lindsay: Yeah. So, toothpaste has been so many different things. So, the first toothpaste that actually ever came around was made with ox hooves and crushed up bones. And people, like back in ancient Egyptian time, that’s what people used. And so that was a powder, essentially, right? That was a powder. And then eventually, they started using things like calcium carbonate, di-calcium phosphate, which is, more used in toothpaste nowadays.

And then it wasn’t until really the nineteen 50s or 60s where people started using actual paste. And what it was at first was glycerin, which was actually animal-derived that was mixed with traditional tooth powder. Well, actually, it was like the 1850s is when this happened.

And the reason that that came to be is that people just didn’t want to use powder anymore. They wanted to be able to use a different form factor so it could stay on their toothbrush. And they started putting in wet ingredients; so glycerin and water to make it a paste and then putting it into the tube.

So, it’s a pretty new thing. You’ve only had it for about like a few hundred years. And I think that it was really, really great at the time, but what we’re realizing is that it’s not necessarily the paste that’s the problem. I mean, of course, when you start having to add all of those artificial flavors and preservatives and everything; that is a problem.

But it’s the vessel; the toothpaste tube. It ends up in landfills and it’s just kind of clogging up our ecosystems and environment.

Lindsay, you don’t have a background in chemistry, but you’re here. You’re doing this thing.

Lindsay: I do not. But I’ve taken a lot of chemistry courses at this point. I actually always make a joke about it. The high school version of myself would be so disappointed on how I spend my Saturday nights now because I basically spent the past like three years taking online chemistry courses from… There is actually this thread on Reddit where you can take chemistry courses from senior year of high school to a PhD in college; like organic chemistry, anything that you want to take, and it’s through universities for free and you just click the links.

And so, that’s how it all started and I ended up taking some of these online chemistry courses. Because when I realized that there was a problem and I wanted to make an alternative type of toothpaste, I needed to really understand, not only what toothpaste was and why the ingredients were in there, but also like I wanted to make sure I made something effective.

Because when I first made this, it was for me and my family and my friends. And like, I’m not the one that’s going to be ruining their teeth. So, I was like, “I need to know exactly what I’m doing.” So, I took a lot of classes. I took, as I said, online chemistry courses. And then I roped in every friend from high school and college that became a dentist, a dental hygienist. I was hitting them up on Facebook, like texting them way too much, getting their take on my formula and my ingredients and what they thought about it and everything as well.

At what point did you realize that you’d built a real company? Like this is real; this is a thing.

Lindsay: It was kind of a slow build. So, when I first came out with the first toothpaste tablets, I had my family and friends using them. And I wanted to actually build a website. Because I invested in so much machinery to make these tablets, I just wanted to make my investment back.

So, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to put up a Shopify site. I want to put this online and hopefully, in the next five years, I’ll recoup like the 6K that I put into it to buy this machinery and everything. So, that was the beginning of how I ended up with a website and for sale online.

Then some Vegan and zero-waste blogger started finding it totally on their own. They search it on Google, they found it and they started writing about it. And that was crazy to me when I started seeing orders come in from means that I didn’t know. And I was like, “Wow! Do I have a business? Like I don’t know anyone in Arkansas.”

But then what was really crazy was a few months after that, Women’s Health reached out. They were like, “Hey, we love that you’re a female-founded business. We would love to highlight you and your mission.” And I sent them just this iPhone video that I made at like 6:00 in the morning before I had to leave for my real job.

And a few months later, they edited it together and put it online. And the video just went crazy viral: like more than they expected, more than I expected. Like I immediately sold out. They were like so impressed, like they reached out to me and they were like, “This is crazy.” I was like, “Yeah, you’re right.”

And that’s when I was like, “Okay, this is a business. Like, people want this.” And so, that’s kind of when things got real. Things got really real.

What was the next step after that? Because you sell out, now you have demand and you have to fulfill it. What are the next steps?

Lindsay: A complete and utter panic. And I didn’t know what to do. Like, it was really crazy. Yeah, it was like so exciting. But you’re also like, “Oh, my gosh. Now, I have to figure out how to do these orders.” I was making this in my living room.

So, I found a manufacturer. And that was already like hard; I needed to make sure that they were going to align with my values, are a cruelty-free company, no animal testing. They had to use all of my ingredients that were sustainably sourced. It was quite, you know, work with glass. It was a thing.

So, I found them. We were behind on orders. We were backordered for two months and then we got them up and running and then everything was okay.

But it was at that time also, my now co-founder and long term boyfriend came in as well. So, he had always done the website; like once I tried to put up this like really crappy-looking Shopify site, he was like, “Absolutely not”, because his background is design. He knows how to code. He’s built companies before.

So, he made the website look the way that it looks. And he’s still responsible for every single pixel on that website right now. I’m very thankful he’s very talented.

And so, he had come in full time as well. And so, we basically just tag teamed. I was doing product and making sure the toothpaste was coming out and was going to customers. And then he was making sure the website was running okay and that we had the design that we needed to really succeed.

What was the hardest thing about scaling up after that big burst in demand?

Lindsay: You know, it’s still an issue for us because scaling up seems to like never end. It’s like we did it in my living room and then we found a company that could make it for us way better than I could in my living room. But then we outgrew them and then we’re with another company. Now we’re outgrowing them. So, it’s like it doesn’t stop. And you’re constantly looking and then you…

But the really cool thing is that we’re very open about how iterative we are and we’ve had so many different versions of our tablets where we’ve changed up ingredients. I’ve learned more about things that, you know, what can be more sustainable, what can be more ecofriendly and make our customers happy? And so, it’s a constantly iterative process.

So, the hardest thing, I guess, is that it doesn’t stop. And we’re still in the process of that every day.

What did that original team look like? Who were the first couple of people you had to bring on board to meet the demand?

Lindsay: So, it was me, my boyfriend and my sister in-law, actually, who is doing customer support. Because I was like, “Who can I rope in to do this?” And she had a not really a bad {indistinct 14:53} because we’re support, but she’s my sister in-law. So, she did it because she loved me and she got us through that first bump. And that was just like total like Navy SEAL Team, just trying to get through. We ended up finding a fulfillment center as well. So, then it was like manufacturing’s offsite, fulfillment is offsite.

And then up until we found it fulfilment center, we were packing everything ourselves and I was going to the post office every day with huge bags of product to drop into their bins; like the post office people thought I was crazy. They were like, “What are you doing?” So, that was kind of what we did for a long time.

And then finally, once we were able to catch our breaths a little bit, my sister in-law got back to her normal life and didn’t have to do customer support for us anymore and I was able to hire actually the woman that we work with today, who still does our customer experience.

And now, it’s me, my boyfriend, his cousin, who actually is doing our press and partnerships and she runs our Instagram. And then now, I mean, she’s a friend of ours now, a woman named Caitlyn, who does our customer support. And we just hired a man named Greg, who has a really great extensive supply chain background, who is helping us with supply chain and optimization.

What are some of the marketing channels that you depended on in those early days?

Lindsay: At first, we didn’t do any marketing. So, before the videos had gone viral and it was like this manic scramble. Then when we finally, like more recently, we’ve been able to really hone in our marketing efforts.

And so, we primarily use, I mean, there’s nothing unique about what we do, we do Facebook and Instagram is mostly what we do. We also love to collaborate with other brands, like on our Instagram, because we think that’s like a definite win-win, only if we believe in their mission and their product, because it’s just a way to get our customers more aware of other changes they can be making and same for them and for us.

What do you think is going to change as you grow and develop?

Lindsay: I believe that we’ll still like rely heavily on Instagram and Facebook because for us, it’s all about where our customers and they spend a lot of time on Instagram and Facebook. We’re always looking, for us, when it comes to distribution, the question is, where are our customers? And so, they spend a lot of time there.

I see other brands that do really fun things with billboards and with those pasted things on like city walls. And I think that that’s like a really fun thing to do. Although for us, I just feel like we’re a digitally native product; like we’re for sale only online. We want to keep it like that. We like having a direct communication with our customers. So, we really feel at home advertising on Instagram or Facebook.

I do love the idea of possibly YouTube and Tick-Tock, because it’s just like a new way to talk to people and to get our message out. But I think, for us, for the most part, it’ll stay online and in front of our customers that way.

So, Facebook and Instagram, collaborations with other brands, and eventually YouTube and Tick-Tock.

Lindsay: Yep, exactly.

Do you ever see yourself selling through retail partners?

Lindsay: This is a question we ask ourselves all the time. So, we’ve had a lot of inbound interest, which I think is so exciting because it means that retail is finally getting it that people want cleaner, more sustainable products. But for us, it’s we so highly value our relationship with our customer.

An example of this is one of our formula iterations, had eco-cert palm oil in it. And I thought that was fine because it was eco certified. I was buying it from a small company in the US. Like I felt very okay with that choice.

And we had our customers reach out to us via email and social media saying like, “Hey, you’re really transparent brand and we love your mission and what you’re doing, but we don’t think that this even eco-cert palm oil aligns with your values. Can you look into this?”

So, I did. I did a bunch of research and I realized that our customers were totally right, that there is a transparency issue with even the eco certified palm oil and that until we could be someone like Dr. Brunner’s, they actually have an employee from Dr. Brunner’s on the ground at their palm oil plantations, making sure that it’s not contributing to deforestation, that the people who are making it are paid properly and treated properly. Like until we can do that, we can’t use it.

And so, because we’re not in retail, (a) we learned that from our customers, but also we could just flip a switch and decide that we’re going to reformulate and put out a new product. And we didn’t have to go through all these hoops of what we would have had to do with retail.

And I think that like by staying direct to our customers, we not only get that amazing feedback loop and we get to learn from them, but we can also say super nimble, which is one of our advantages right now.

How are you thinking about fundraising? And has your opinion about it changed at all since you first launched the company?

Lindsay: We have this question a lot. And so, for us, it’s when you find product market fit as it’s deemed in the industry. I’ve learned this over the past few years. There’s a lot of inbound interest from VC’s, which again, I think is so exciting because it means that they want to get involved with brands that are trying to do things right and change the world.

For us, we are totally self-funded. I started this with $6 thousand in my living room, and I would like to stay that way as absolutely long as possible. And it’s not that I think there’s any issues with venture capital or VC’s, but the way that I see it is that we need to be able to make these bold choices that are kind of counter-intuitive in defense of the planet when it comes to, looking at what’s going to make a company money and what’s actually going to be making the most sustainable brand that I possibly can.

And I don’t want to have to answer to VC’s and the VC’s having to answer to their LP’s about why I’m choosing to spend our money or not save money by using plastic or not doing these things that other companies are doing because they feel like they have to show profits.

Like we’ve been profitable since year one; it’s not an issue. And I fully believe that gives me the stance to be super bold about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and not have to worry about defending it to a boardroom.

Lindsay, how hard do you think it is for bigger brands with more resources, more money, more people, to come in and do what you’re doing?

Lindsay: It’s definitely a risk. So, we’re always thinking, “What’s Col-Gate or what’s Crisp going to do?” But the fact of the matter is, like the reason our company exists is because they’ve been doing this wrong. They’ve consistently put profits over people and the planet by putting out products that have not great ingredients.

Like sometimes, like when you look at the fact that they were putting triclosan in toothpaste and it had to be the FDA that told them that they can’t do it anymore. And like the harsh chemicals, preservatives, and then the fact that there’s one billion, toothpaste tubes that are ending up in our landfills every year. And for them to decide to get into our space, (a) I personally believe they’re going to leave something out because I know how hard this is.

And like I know that making these choices, you have to be so genuine coming from like a different place than just trying to make money for your shareholders. And I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I just know that’s true because you’re faced with these hard decisions every single day.

So, I believe that they will inevitably leave something out of the equation when it comes to getting this right for people on the planet. And I also think that they’d have to rebuild a lot of trust that has been broken because of the damage that this is done to the planet.

You are a very busy person. You do a lot of things at the company. So, how are you protecting yourself from fatigue and exhaustion?

Lindsay: So, there’s actually there’s quite a few things that I do. I feel like I’ve started almost like building this. I’m just like quaintest right now, but like a wall of wellness around me that I feel like I’ve started to need to kind of protect because things get really crazy. It’s really easy to stick to your wellness routine when things are fine. It’s really hard when everything’s going crazy.

And so, for me, waking up and meditating for 10 minutes every single morning is this space that I need in my morning. Especially because we deal with the East Coast a lot, and I’m on the West Coast. So, I wake up and they’re three hours ahead. So, I always wake up to a barrage of emails and text because they’ve been awake for three hours and I just woke up.

So, what I do is I put my phone on Do Not Disturb at 10 p.m. and I don’t take it off Do Not Disturb until 8:30 a.m. And I wake up around 7:30 or 8:00 and I meditate and I drink coffee and I try to journal about like the big picture things for just about 10 minutes of like, you know, and like crazy ideas, like where I could see the company in 10 years or what we’re going to be doing for like a PR launch in a few weeks. You know, just crazy, crazy things that I don’t have time to think about during the day. So, I do that. I have like a pretty structured morning routine.

And then for me, I love to run. It’s not even like a getting-in-shape thing. It’s a mental thing. So, I try to run about five miles, like every other night, just around the beach. I live in Marina, so I go on a run up at the beach.

And recently, something that has really made a difference for me is I’ve stopped drinking alcohol entirely. And like I’ve always liked drinking socially or whatever; it’s never been a thing, but I was just like, “You know what? I feel like it’s maybe, not like even having a negative impact, but like, it’s just I need to start really like cutting down the things that are not good for my body because I’m already running it so full speed.” And I was like, “I’m just going to cut this out entirely.”

And I kind of feel like I’m like a little bit more of a machine by doing that. Because I don’t wake up, even when I go out, you know, I just went out to dinner with some friends from New York who also are entrepreneurs. And I normally would have had a glass or two of wine at dinner and then I would have woken up a little bit more tired this morning, but I didn’t and I feel great. And it’s really like helped me be a machine, I guess.

So, those are the few things, I would say; like a morning routine, keeping your phone like away and not like immediately responding to fires like at night and the morning and then trying to cut out alcohol as much as you can. That’s been the things I’ve done.

When you’re journaling, when you are thinking of what the company is going to look like in the next 10 years, what are some of those crazy things that you’re writing down?

Lindsay: Oh, my God. See, I don’t know. Because like when I meditate in the morning, it’s like this super abstract thing. So, it’s like what I could say on a Tuesday is going to be a totally different thing than what I say on a Thursday, because I’m just kind of being like, “You know what? Maybe we’ll just do toothpaste this whole time or maybe we’ll go into the entire bathroom.” You know, it’s really being able to be really free with my thoughts.

A really awesome piece of advice that I got actually is that if something is stressing you out, write it down and then just be like, not like write it down like not on my phone, but like in ink on paper and be like, “It is written down. I no longer have to stress about it.” You know, it’s like I can figure out something.

So, sometimes, that’s what my morning journaling is. It’s like, okay, I woke up and I’m still feeling a little anxious about something. So, I’m going to write about this thing that’s stressing me out and then kind of also write about all of these different things that I could do to try to fix it.

And many of the things that I write about in the morning is like totally out there, but it just kind of gets me in the flow of thinking creatively and like looking for new, outlandish solutions to problems.

Alright, Lindsay. What’s a direct-to-consumer brand that you’re really excited about?

Lindsay: So, I will say I’ve tried every single solid shampoo on the market. I feel like because like I’m constantly trying to do the same things; practice what I preach. And I just found a company called High Bar, which does solid shampoos there. I think they’re a small team out of Minnesota or something. They make some of the best solid shampoo. So, you don’t have to use shampoo and conditioner bottles. And I’m really not a big fan of them.

They’re not direct-to-consumer, but I’m a huge fan of Beyond Meat. They recently IPOed and like what they’re doing and they’re founder and the way he like has taken kind of this like really radical idea of like veganism and really made it very digestible for many people.

And so, I think like those are kind of the brands that I really look up to. I’m excited about High Bar and I really look up to Beyond Meat.

Lindsay, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

Lindsay: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. This is so much fun.

If you haven’t already, go to bitetoothpastebits.com. Throw away your plastic tubes. Again, that’s bitetoothpastebits.com. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for listening. This is the DTC Growth Show by #paid.