Josh Caputo founded HumoTech in 2015 as a spin-off from his CMU research robotics department. His passion is focused on developing and commercializing cutting-edge robotics technology that addresses current societal needs like prostheses and exoskeletons.
Josh and his team have built a platform to enable the world’s top researchers to more rapidly iterate on their products and designs. This will eventually allow robotics to assist people in achieving higher levels of mobility and a greater quality of life across medicine, engineering, and business.
In this episode, Aaron and Josh discuss Humotech’s goals, how they’ve bootstrapped a hardware company, and why exoskeletons will change the way we live.
Josh Caputo’s Challenge; Go on a hike, turn off the cellphone and ask yourself what you are doing with your life.
Connect with Josh Caputo
If you liked this interview, check out our episode The Construction Robot Revolution with Jeremy Searock where we discuss how Advanced Construction Robotics applies robotics technology in the rebar industry.
After years as a chef in the fast-paced world of fine dining, Chad Townsend decided it was time for a change.
He purchased an expensive Swiss-made food processor that would finely puree frozen foods such as ice cream or sorbet. His wife, Lauren, allowed him to make this purchase under one condition: he had to have it paid off by the end of the summer.
What started as a fun summer hustle turned into a 10,000 sq. ft. Ice Cream Manufacturing and Franchising business. Growing his homemade Ice cream Business, he had to put processes in place and hire people he can trust.
In this episode, Chad and Aaron discuss what it takes to scale-up food manufacturing, how to find good franchise partners, and their strategy for coming up with new flavors.
Chad Townsend’s Challenge; Spend some dollars (buying products) from somebody who lives within 50 miles of your house.
Connect with Chad Townsend
If you liked this interview, check out our episode with Bill Sarris where we discuss how he turned his family business into a Candy Powerhouse.
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Townsend: We had to learn everything and anything involved with dairy processing. We learned process engineering on the fly. We've learned so many different things, not the least of which being what it's like to scale up a product that is not a widget.
Watson: Hey, you're gonna love this interview with Chad Townsend, the founder of Millie's Ice Cream. We talk about his humble origins, making ice cream out of his kitchen. We talk about how the firm experiments with all sorts of different wacky flavors, how they figure out when one works. And he goes into detail about how he's built a 10,000 square foot manufacturing facility to ship ice cream around the region.
Chad. Welcome to go deep, man. I'm excited to be talking with you.
Townsend: I am very excited to be here. It's been a while coming, but glad we could get it scheduled.
Watson: It was about time. So I wanna go back in time to the start of Millies and what I've come to learn is that more often than not, when someone decides to just create a new company outta nothing there, the entrepreneur will have this feeling of something is missing.
They it's like they can see a puzzle and there's just this clearly missing piece.
Watson: And you know, there were other ice cream shops, there were other, you know, places to go get a dessert after a meal, and yet you felt compelled to start your own ice cream shop. So through that lens, can you talk about what you saw that was missing that drove you so hard to create your own ice cream shopping company.
Townsend: Yeah. So you know, I, I was a chef in a past life and had left the place I was at because I felt that it wasn't fair to those people as I was kind looking to do my own thing, and wasn't fair to my search to be committing time to work. And it wasn't fair to work, to be committing time to my search.
Fortunately, my wife, you know, did well enough at the time that she said, why don't you just leave and we can start the search. And one of the days we were in the process of the search we went and had some ice cream at a place. So certainly won't gonna men won't mention the name, cuz we're not gonna throw anybody under the bus, but, and it was like, it was really lousy and it said homemade on the, on the sign and I'm like, like, I feel like I could do better than this.
I trained with a couple pastry chefs. I'd worked with some really talented chefs and had the general idea of making ice cream. So we got this idea that I was gonna buy an ice cream machine to make at my house. And it was under this weird guys, that I wanted this ice cream machine. I wanted to play around with it.
I knew I would use it in my eventual restaurant, but I, you know, the problem was I didn't have any money. I certainly had a, not a great credit score. So I said to my wife, why don't you buy this thing? She said, fine, good deal. I'll buy it. You have to pay it off by the end of the summer. So we started doing that and it was just a fun project to keep us busy, to do whatever through the summer.
And then people started coming to the place I was selling it. So we were just making it at home. People started coming in, standing in line on Friday nights to have this ice cream grocery store start reaching out. And what we found was that there wasn't a super premium local option. And so that was kind of the, the light bulb that went off, if you will, for us is, why don't we do this we might have something here. So we built a really small legal dairy plant, because again, we were doing this whole thing. We were doing a CSA, which was really weird. We thought it was gonna be this great thing. This was pre-kids. We were gonna be driving around on Saturdays.
We were gonna be listening to tunes, dropping off a pin of ice cream at people's houses, 10, 15, 20 houses. Then it was gonna be great. Well, like 80 people signed. We had to divide our roots. Lauren was working a job. She is formerly in private equity. She was working in a job and then Friday night she would develop this route in, in a spreadsheet and it turned out to not be a super fun thing.
So we decided let's let's ground this. We built a small dairy plant. Got legal, started selling into grocery stores. Started opening our ice cream shop in Shadyside. And that was the other kind of piece of the, you know, the, the missing puzzle, if you will, was that there wasn't an ice cream shop that was fun, serving a super premium product that we felt in town. It was, you know, places that you had gone to, you stood out and did in a parking lot. You, people had been going there for 50 or 60 years having soft serve, whatever it may be, but there wasn't a place that was like fun playing good music, felt great, felt comfortable, had a good vibe and was also serving great ice cream, and so we saw that kind of, you know, gap and decided to build Shadyside and it's been rolling ever since.
Watson: And so coming to today, can you just give a little bit of context on where the business stands now from that original, you know.....
Watson: .....dairy production facility that was put together and your first shop.
Townsend: Yeah. So 2014 is when the business was founded, right? Incorporated, if you will. 2015 is when we got our dairy plant built out. So it was 900 square feet and Homewood Point Breeze. Today 2022, we have 11 locations potentially five more queued up for next year on a 10,000 square foot dairy plant among e-comm shipping to 48 states distribution through a large food service distributor and all of the kind of states that abut Pennsylvania and we're in 50 or 60 grocery stores growing.
Watson: And so one way to think about a kitchen, I mean, even, even for a kitchen in your home, is that it really is a manufacturing facility....
Watson: .....at, at a micro scale of the dinner or the lunch. Your family's gonna be consuming. And that scales up into the commercial kitchen that sits within a restaurant. But what we have here, 10,000 square feet, we just walked through. It is a completely different can of worms than a commercial kitchen serving a single restaurant.
Watson: So can you talk about what you had to learn in order to make that scale up possible and, you know, maintain the quality of your product and do all the things that come along with scaling the company.
Townsend: Yeah. We had to learn everything and anything involved with dairy processing. We had to learn that all of the regulatory standards were heavily regulated.
We have inspectors in, in the plant every two to three months at the very least not to mention third party audits and all of those things. So we learned all of that. We learned process engineering on the fly. We've certainly, you know, we didn't just do it all ourselves, but we've, we've been able to make some great relationships and great friends with people who have given us free advice, cheap advice, very expensive advice and everything in between. But we've learned that it turns out that if you are making two gallons of ice cream, you don't just multiply all the bill of materials times a hundred to make 200 gallons. Right? There's a lot that goes into it, from heating, there's you know, there's a lot of different flows through pumps and without just getting into like the absolute weeds of all of the day to day minutiae of, of problems we've, we've learned. So many different things, not the least of which being what it's like to scale up a product that is not a widget because if you're making a piston, right, you just buy enough metal to make a hundred pistons, okay? Now it's a thousand. One of the things that's really, you know, kind of interesting that we've had to learn is that we have a lot of overhead piping, right? Stainless steel piping. You may or may not have seen it as you go through the plant, you know, hundreds and hundreds and thousands of feet. And you can't like, just take that down and clean it.
Where, if you're in a restaurant, right, you're cutting fish on a cutting board, you clean the cutting board in the sink, you put it in the dishwasher and you go, we can't do that because we have sticks of pipe that are 60 feet long. And so we have to, you know, run a cleaning cycle and there's a, there's a, a tried and true process for doing that.
But one of the interesting things is that my cleaning process takes the same amount of time if I produce one gallon or I produce a hundred thousand gallons. And so one of the things we've had to learn is scheduling and planning our day from an efficiency standpoint, that we are not wasting a large portion of it cleaning.
You know, cuz we still have to clean every day at the end of the day. I mean it's, if, if we produce one thing, we still have to clean. If we produce 10 things, the cleaning process is no different. And so that's been a really, really steep learning curve for us, I would say the steepest just because we make a mistake and maybe we get very low yield. Okay. Now everybody stops for three hours and we clean. And so that I would say that has been the biggest piece of, of what we do is learning that how to schedule the day, how to schedule shifts, how to balance and stagger people in people out so that we're still within the constraints of a, of a food safe program, but, but maximizing our output.
Watson: Yeah. It's always so fascinating to me, how folks will get into a business for a kind of core reason, which in your case was the flavor of the ice cream.
Watson: And how quickly, if you're successful, it literally turns into a completely different job. You're talking about optimizing cleaning schedules in a manufacturing facility.
Watson: Not creating custom ice cream flavors.
Townsend: Yeah. I mean, you know, we have binders upon binders of records and document keeping and I'm just not, I'm not naturally a document guy.
Townsend: Like I've always been kind of a shoot from the hip fly by the seat of my pants guy and like that doesn't work, you know, and, and to, to, to, when I was listening to the one podcast this morning, it was really great because we're developing these SOPs and it's like, it takes a lot of time, right? We have to write them. And it's one thing to like, to, to write that SOP but then to like, Implementation is the hardest part. That's 90% of the job. And if you miss a step and you have somebody who, if you just write the SOP and you miss a step and you hand it to someone and you just expect them to then recreate it, they will.
But somebody who knows the process pre SOP will say, oh, well, you didn't say this in here. And so we're constantly tweaking those, working those, you know, we, we just went through an audit and the guy asked for a document to document how we destroy our documents. And I'm like, listen, like I don't really, we're not super proprietary.
Like we, that's. The thing about what we do is it's just milk cream, sugar, eggs, salt. Like we have, we certainly have recipes, but like, I'll share those recipes with whoever, because it's not, it's not just about that recipe, it's all the things around it. Staffing.....
Townsend: ...it's all of that.
Townsend: And so I'm like, we just throw the documents away.
He's like, well, then you have to document that you just threw the documents away, I'm like, this is crazy, so that's been another very big challenge for us.
Watson: Yeah, it sounds like it is. I wanna get more into the business model, but before we do that, just to, just to drive home for folks, the nature of your skews and the, we talked about customized cream here. There's a famous, you know, Malcolm Gladwell anecdote about pasta sauce and how there was originally, you know, chunky and regular pasta sauce and then there's this, you know, meeting about how do we make more money? How do we sell more pasta sauce? And it was about customizing to the person that wanted, you know, more garlic that wanted less garlic that wanted, you know, spicy, less spicy, all these different things. And that's how you now walk through the grocery store and you see an entire aisle of different pasta sauces that one could self-select for. So in that same spirit, like I can remember, and we're, we're not shouting at any other ice cream shops by name here, but I can remember where like you know, it there's, there's chocolate, there's vanilla there's twist and then maybe there's, you know, the one you know, milkshake or you know, cookies and cream flavor. Yeah. And that was like the universe.....
Watson: .....of ice creams. And I was just in your shop the other day and my wife orders, a lavender based ice cream , which is a pretty significant departure from that past.
So talk a little bit about the flavor profiles.
Townsend: Yeah. So you know, being that I was a chef and we have a bunch of people here who are very creative culinary minds, or able to kind of go a little bit outside of people's, you know, standard. We certainly have the standards, right. We have vanilla, we have chocolate, we have coffee, we have cookie dough, cookies and cream.
But part of our mission is to continually rotate some portion of those SKUs. Even if it's just in the shop, we've, we've transitioned that into grocery store because we've found that that does really well having some level of rotation in the, in the pints, in the grocery store. But yeah, we, we, the lavender is a funny example because it's one that it's fine. I like it. It's fine. But we get a ton of requests for it. As soon as people have kind of associated it with spring and Millies and so on, as soon as it starts to warm up, you're gonna do lavender again. When's lavender? How about lavender?
And so we've, you know, just been continually bringing lavender around the spring and now it carries on a little further because people are still buying it at. It's such a volume that we keep it going. And so those things we pull back from other years, but we're also trying to like to throw new things in there.
Townsend: Every year, every.
Watson: Talk to me about how that works, cuz everyone can kind of picture, you know, those big kind of glass open freezers that you can look in and decide what you want and get a taste and then even once you kind of know what you want, ask for one more taste just to get it.
Townsend: Absolutely. We encourage tasting too.
Watson: But, you know, you have your, your standards, like you said, your chocolate, your vanilla, the, the tried and true, they're always gonna be a consistent demand for like how many slots does the average Millies shop have for those tubs of ice cream in there, and then how many of those are kind of turning over with regularity, either seasonally or from an experimentation standpoint?
Watson: And then what are, you know, your, how many are your kind of old trustworthies.
Townsend: You know, 14 to 16 on average slots, if you will, flavors at, at any given moment we try to keep six, 8,10 of 'em that are always the same, because one of the things that we found is we were able to build trust with people, having some kind of more outside the box flavors if they're trying some of the, the, you know, more standard flavors. So we always want to keep that because we also will see that we'll have, you know, a, a husband and wife, a boyfriend, girlfriend, you know, two people that are coming in, friends that want to, one wants to just have vanilla, one wants to go a little outside of the box and if we don't have a, a good split of that offering, then we, then we lose one person or, you know, we don't get either of them. So we wanna have, we wanna be kind of approachable, accessible for everyone.
Watson: And from an experimentation standpoint, how often, you know, so I have a good friend, a very successful entrepreneur who, you know, who'll be quick to tell you, I get a hundred different ideas and 99 of 'em are terrible.
Watson: And like, like I need to, for my business, need to focus.....
Watson: .....on like doubling down on the things that matter specifically just in the spectrum of flavors, not all the other, you know, potential business model, creativity, ideas, which could also exist. But how often are you, like, like I'm guessing these, like, let's just try to make this ice cream. Let's try to experiment with it and iterate, iterate, iterate until it's either something worthy of cutting out to the public or just mixing.
Watson: And then on the second level, okay. We brought this out to the public and it either is, or is not landing. Those seem like the two kinds of you know, what's the, the trolley problem where they're like switching the, you know, the pathway back and forth.
Townsend: Yeah. Yeah. So, we certainly kind of have those, those two sections where we, where we decide, you know, where if we want to go forth with it, you know, internally, and then how it's received from a shop level. We're fortunate at this point that with the volume of the shops, we can have a single run of a flavor and it will go pretty quick, regardless of its popularity, right? It's maybe not gonna go as quick as some super popular ones, but we, there's not a lot left out to die anymore.
Townsend: It wasn't the case so much in the first one or two shops. But you know, for example, we had a goat cheese flavor. There was goat cheese, ice cream. Rachel, our production manager, made it, she did a strawberry or a raspberry rhubarb jam for it. And I said, go ahead, make it, nobody's gonna buy this.
Yeah. And it was one of our most popular flavors. And so it's just really hard to, to tell. And I've at this point I've, unless it's something that's so funky or so whack, you know, I say all right, let's, you know, let's figure it out. Let's R and D it, and let's get it to a point where at least somebody here who likes this flavor profile is pleased with it and then we'll release it. And it turns out a lot of times I'm proven wrong.
Watson: Well, I mean, that's just a really compelling thing for a business to kind of have embedded into its culture and into the actual business model is like you have these 14 to 16 slots per store with foot consistent traffic. So you can actually, you know, it's a website that does, or doesn't get traffic to it. One of them can run a lot of experiments, the other one can't even if they have the desire to, and that's, I, I just think that's a very kind of compelling part of the business.
Townsend: Yeah. You know, and, and it's it. In a, kind of a weird microcosm, right? This it's, it's just an ice cream shop. We're just making ice cream, but we are able to identify now as we're kind of further along in the business, these kinds of human behaviors and things just from surveys around flavors. And we, you know, we have some really great people on our team that are thinking about things a little bit differently. And I think, you know, to go back to the go cheese flavor, one, it's one of the stronger lessons for me as, as the person running the business is that I have to ultimately trust these people who, who I've hired, and if I'm, if I'm hiring them and not trusting them and I'm just kind of like, you know, overbearing on their decision making, then, then I'm either not training them right or I'm hiring the wrong people. And it turns out I'm often wrong. These people are all very intelligent, hardworking, driven people. And so I've gotta continue to give them more rope and you know, at the end of the day, if they fail, I, I say to them often, like we're not operating on baby's brains here. We want to be safe. We don't wanna make people sick obviously. But if a flavor sucks and we don't sell a lot of it, like it is what it is, I mean, nobody's gonna, nobody's gonna die. And so, like, we have to, you know, I have to continue to give. All of the people that work here, the, the, the room to grow and, and be better. And they're, they've thrilled me so far with how excited and engaged they are.
Watson: Absolutely. And another thing that thrills a team of staff is a genuine growth story. If, if the entire lake is just completely placid with no sort of rapids of any way, shape or form, not only does that, not, you know, challenge anyone, but it's also like, okay, well, where are we gonna go? Like what, what is there even to do? And you guys are scaling, you said 11 to potentially 15 or 16 locations. E-com in 48 states that you're serving. Can you just talk a little bit about the different pillars of the business? Cuz we interviewed Bill Sarris, another kind of local candy person here in the greater Pittsburgh region, and he talked, I was kind of surprised by this. He talked about them having five layers to the business there, online sales, their sales within the store, the school fundraisers and on and on down the line. Talk a little bit about how that looks from Millie's standpoint.
Townsend: Yeah. So we're, I mean, we're probably three or four, depending on how you categorize them. So there are certainly, you know, grocery pints, right? That's very simple. That's clean cut. We deliver those, we service 'em we distribute 'em we make them there's obviously the ice cream shops. That's the bulk of our business. That is 80% of what we do is, is those shops. And that's what we want to focus on. You know, it's, it's kind of that like old cliche is like, I wanted to do everything and I never wanted to say no to anybody and I, and the idea from the beginning was like, okay, if we just keep bringing in continually growing revenue, like we'll do fine. That's like, that's, I thought that was the secret to like building a great business, but it turns out it's it maybe isn't always like that. It's not just accept as many dollars in the door as possible because it puts weird stresses on the team, it puts weird stresses on the equipment, the space, all kinds of things. So we're continually like looking at it once upon a time we had a growth strategy Shady Side was gonna be an ice cream shop and we were gonna distribute wholesale ice cream to restaurants, grocery stores. And then we found it's really hard to compete in grocery with a Unilever, right? I mean, billions and billions of dollars in ad revenue that they'll spend to, to keep them in a, in a prominent facing on the shelf. And we can't have that personal touch at the grocery store. We're a more expensive item. So 7 99 compared to a 5 99 for something else. And if you don't know us, what, what, like, why are you gonna try us? Maybe we got great looking packaging. Maybe it's an intriguing flavor, but we can't explain our kind of origin story or what we are to to the guests or to the customer, whereas in the shops, we can come in, taste it. Oh, lavender, that sounds weird to you have a taste. We encourage tasting. If you don't like it, throw the spoon away. It's not gonna gross you out, you might, you know, just say, hey, that's not for me, but we've had a lot of people that have tasted it and said, great. And we can have fun music and we can have the great staff that we have because they are, they're the key to the whole thing in the shops. And then, we have that huge kind of piece of it. We do have a small wholesale distributor, as I said, through a large food service distributor. And then we have, you know, other ancillary things, right, school fundraisers, those things, not to the degree that that Sarris would, but we roll those into the shops as kind of a community outreach community building angle.
Watson: Got it. And then the other kind of piece of terminology, you particularly, if you're saying you're shipping, you, you have your distributor that can help with wholesale, you have the ability to sell online to these 48 like continental United States.
And another terminology that I only learned here in the last two years is the cold chain storage.
Watson: Or, or the cold chain for a supply chain being, you know, different than the conventional supply chains that we're accustomed to. And that was, you know, originally under the conversation of shipping vaccines that needed to be temperature controlled to different locations. But in food service, particularly for someone like ice cream...
Watson: .....that is an important part of the equation as well. So what can you tell us in terms of learning that part of the equation? Cuz I am, I've basically just walked right up to the line of my knowledge and I have nothing more.
Townsend: Sure. Yeah. I mean, what I can tell you is that it's it's difficult from a sourcing that, that
transit or that freight perspective. So it's difficult to find those people, not everybody does frozen or refrigerated logistics. It's expensive, as you can imagine, because you know, when you're talking about FTL or LTL, LTL is certainly more expensive than FTL in a standard freight shipping model, because there's no guarantee that they're gonna fill that truck. They often do almost always if they have good logistics planners, but you pay that kind of convenience fee to not ship the whole thing. But it's easy if you are. LTL provider, you go, you pick up three pallets from soandso. You go pick up two from soandso, next thing you know, you have 26 pallets, pretty easy to find, but you may not have people who are looking to ship pallets of, of frozen or refrigerated, you know, with the same kind of level of, of regularity that you do on standard shipping.
So that's been one of the things that we have really had to think about as we're continuing this growth from a franchising perspective is okay. We know we can support the store, we know what the footprint of the store looks like, we can design, we can give you a pretty tight budget. We've done it many times now we know that, but the big question is, okay, you come to me and say, I want to open a Millies in Orlando. Okay, how do I get the ice cream to Orlando? Because right now, some combination of local distributors, warehousers and us warehousing and distributing our own product that's easy. The furthest, you know, footprint is, is Shitakwa, New York down to like Wheeling West Virginia, which you certainly don't want to do in a day, but you can, if you have to.
Townsend: But I can't just send a delivery driver to Orlando, right, for twice a week? So where do we store, you know, on the way to Orlando, where do we store it when it's down there, so we can have some economies of scale if we're gonna ship a lot of product, how reputable is the carrier that they're going to ensure that this cold chain has been maintained?
You know, with something like, if you're shipping refrigerated, french fries, Right? They certainly have to be refrigerated, but if those french fries go above 41 degrees for an hour, it's okay. You know, they're not gonna get ruined they're refrigerated, French fries or whatever, you know, refrigerated produce. With ice cream, I mean, it melts, right? Like it melts and then it refreezes, and there's no way to know until you....
Townsend: ...... right? And maybe something that is lettuce, right, you could see it, it's wilted, it's no good, but in a pint, in a bucket you don't know. And I can't then open up all those buckets and taste them. And so it's, it's a challenge. That's certainly one of the most challenging pieces, especially with the climate of how things are right now for us.
Watson: So talk just a little bit about the addition of these locations and how you're thinking about it then from like a geographic footprint.
Townsend: Yeah. So we're kind of thinking in concentric circles, one from a, from a dis distribution standpoint, two from a support standpoint I think one of the things that is our kind of value add in this franchising industry that we've identified as something that is a non-negotiable for us,
is that the franchisee will receive great support because we want them to be very successful. There are franchises out there that you can go find that the director of development will say, Hey, this is for you know, a husband to run whose wife is very wealthy and they don't need to make money they just need to stay busy or, you know, some partners in some format, they just want to get, you know, stay busy.
We want people to be very successful at these. You know, at these ventures themselves. And so what comes along with that is great support from us. We want to be able to, we wanna be either at your door within 24 hours or on the phone in a couple hours with you, to help you walk through the troubles that you have. And so as we think about growth from a concentric circle standpoint, that's the way that we can do it without, you know, absorbing so much overhead to, you know, be sending people to Colorado and Texas and California. So as we kind of grow, right, it's, it's now regionally or tristate, if you will, and then the next kind of concentric circle will be down into the Carolina's, right? And then adding people to the team that can help to support as we grow those.
Watson: And franchising businesses, when they are at the upper, I mean, you could say this about most businesses, but franchising businesses really are when scaled, when, when actually super successful some of the best businesses on the planet McDonald's included, but we could go on and on and on down the list......
Watson: .....outside the realm of food, but just sticking there for a sec, what are, what are you, what have you had to learn in that realm in terms of. Operating it profitably. It seems self-evident that, you know, the more profitable, the better the experience is for my franchisee.
Watson: There's gonna be all sorts of down, you know, positive, downstream ramifications. They're gonna wanna open another location and, and, you know, do more financing. But what else, just in terms of practical execution, you know, subtle tweaks to the business model, that weren't necessarily a consideration when it was all Millie's owned and operated.
Townsend: Yeah, yeah, I mean, I think, and that's exactly it, right, is that there, there is, you know, we, we learned opening one ice cream shop was difficult, right, as it is opening, any type of business opening two was, many times more difficult, that was the most difficult location to get open because you're spread thin on resources, you really don't have enough income to bring on people, to help doing this, to help do this, you don't have the systems in place, right? Because why do you need a system if I'm the guy who's making it, I'm the guy who's delivering, and somebody else is running it, right? It's just a one on one, hey, I need this, hey. But then like, okay, what days do we do deliveries? Do we do deliveries every other day and rotate them? So there's a lot of lessons learned in that. And we're still certainly learning those le I mean, we, we only have three franchises, so we're still certainly learning those lessons. And I think our idea with the beginning franchises was to get people who you know, are, are quote unquote, true believers, right? People that believe in what we do that want to be a part of it. It's not just a guy who's looking for an investment property or a woman who's looking for some way to diversify her portfolio. It's somebody who either wants to work in this shop or be a strong, you know, overarching managerial presence. And so, we are very upfront with them and saying, hey, you know, we're kind of new to this. And we are going to go above and beyond to provide the service, but we need the feedback loop from you to tell us what you're missing, what training do you wish that you got? And so we're constantly, you know, to go back to the SOPs, trying to develop those, trying to create all of those systems, to get everybody to feel like they're supported.
Watson: And so what you just said reminded me of the past interview that we did with Raji Sankar of Choolaah, where she was talking about....
she was one of the.....
Townsend: Oh, oh yeah so what's her what's Raji and, Randhir yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah Raji's fantastic.
Watson: ........so they were one of the very first franchise, franchisees of Five Guys, and then translated what they witnessed in terms of that scaling into how they're thinking about building Choolaah.
Watson: And it's just self-evident that they've made, not only have they made their mistakes in the, the Five Guys as, as franchisee, but they've almost witnessed secondhand the mistakes of that scaling franchiser.....
Watson: .....so that they, you know, can already kind of start on second base. Not that it's easy by stretching the imagination, but in order to get where they want to go. What, what I'm hearing, if they're thinking about it, like as part of their portfolio, whatever, and they're looking for maybe like super passivity, that's not a great match for you, but I have to imagine on the flip side, getting the partner who maybe I'm just making things up already has, you know, a Taco Bell, a a McDonald's and a KFC.....
Watson: ....and understands what that infrastructure can be, can kind of be this translator to you or look, I get that. You're new. I'm not trying to be a jerk.....
Watson: ....but like they have this in place, you guys should consider it.
Watson: I love this, you should consider it. I hate this, try to avoid that.
Townsend: Yeah, no, that that's absolutely, that's absolutely it. And we've been able to, to pull from both of them from, from I met Raji a while ago through a mutual friend a, a little bit before they had Choolaah, but when Choolah was in the incubation stage in their mind. And then Randhir has been a little bit more of a tactical help to us, and, you know, they're both fans of ours, we've done some, some partnerships with them. But yeah, I mean, it's, it's that feedback loop is, is the most important piece, right? And so like bringing, bringing in knowledge from the outside is certainly important. And so we are trying to walk that delicate line, right?
With, with having someone that is sophisticated enough, that they don't necessarily need to have that external systems knowledge, but maybe sophisticated enough to know what their own expectations are without just kind of like throwing themselves at the mercy of, of what we're giving to be able to say hey, I would really like this. Hey, I would really like that. So we want a franchisee that is sophisticated enough to, to, to communicate that to us. But then also one who doesn't expect that we're fully polished......
Townsend: .....and ready to turn out a hundred locations a year. So that's, you know, finding those people and that's really important, right? We spend a lot of time with, with the potential future franchisees to understand like, how do we like you? Do you like what we do? Because there's a, there's a huge social component to Millies too. It's a really important to us that it, that all of those things are wrapped up in what we do and, and so if people aren't necessarily buying into what some of our kind of belief systems are, you know, it doesn't make them better or worse or whatever than us, but, but that's part of what we do. That's part of our presence. And so they have to be willing to buy into that too.
Watson: Makes sense. All right, couple fun questions I'll say and then we'll, we'll aim towards wrapping up here. So you're in business with your wife?
Watson: What have you learned about navigating that kind of double layer
complexity of being business partners and life partners?
Townsend: Yeah. You know, I've, I've we've both answered this question a lot. She, she started, you know, she kind of helped bankroll the whole operation in the beginning when I couldn't really take a salary cuz we weren't really making any money. So she was able to.
Watson: How long was that if you don't mind me asking?
Townsend: How long was she?
Watson: Were you not taking a salary outta the business?
Townsend: Oh, it was probably two to three years.
Townsend: And then, you know, there was a portion through COVID.....
Townsend: ....right where we, it was important to us to keep our employees employed and, you know, we could figure it out. She did some consulting on the side and so she's, you know, she's an absolute rockstar but you know, it's really weird. We don't have, like, some people say that the key to be working with each other is like, they go home and they don't talk about work and they come to work and they don't talk about home.
Townsend: But like, it's so intertwined for us and we love it so much that like, sometimes we have to say, all right, let's just, can we just stop fucking talking about Millies?
Townsend: But most often, like we're at home, our kids take up a ton of our attention, then the kids go to bed and we're sitting there, she's on her computer I'm on my computer or we're just talking about something.
Townsend: We're having a drink, just talking about Millies, what we want it to be, because there's a lot of like, fun and exciting parts to that too. And often it can get boring, right, when you're talking about the nuts and the bolts, like, okay, what are we gonna do you know, for this board meeting, what are we, what's the, you know, this PowerPoint gonna look like, but more often than not, we're talking about like, okay, what, you know, what does five years look like? What does 10 years look like for us? What, you know?
Townsend: What, like, what are we gonna build this thing to. So I, that's just a lot of fun for us and we just love being a part of it.
Watson: And I mean, I think one of the challenges with relationships is, you know, either the, the receding or the lack of a shared interest, and yes, it's good to also hike or do whatever other stuff, rock, climb, whatever it is that you do with your time, but the ability to kind of have this common shared interest where it's not just, you know, the clock and clock out type of experience, but something you guys are, you know, all in on and get to share that together to me, it having not done it sounds like the kind of idealized version of what it can be, which is like, hey, we can always, you know, you're gonna talk about your kids a lot.
Watson: You're gonna talk about your business a lot.
Watson: That's most of the hours of the day, you can find something else to lay on top, but those are kind of two things that you get to have in common.
Townsend: Yeah. And yeah, one of the things that we're talking a lot right now is that we are, we're trying to figure out right, cuz like everybody else, we have a mission statement. You know, I could show you the mission statement, all the it's in the handbook, it's kinda okay, it's a mission statement.
Townsend: But we wanna distill something down into this kind of one sentence that we can tell everybody who works for us and that's, that's hard. And so tomorrow we're gonna be in the car for eight hours driving and, and this morning she's like, oh, you know, we can just kind of brainstorm this whole thing out.
Townsend: And so, you know, we'll listen to some music, we'll listen to podcasts, we'll just kind of shoot the breeze and, and just keep driving. So it's, you know, those are a lot of those are enjoyable moments.
Watson: Right on, get this camera ready, just to have your hand on the lens. So tell me about the tattoos.
Townsend: Yeah. so I got these tattoos the day before the shady side shop opened up.
Watson: So you had skin in the game from the jump?
Townsend: Yeah. Yeah. A hundred percent. And people are like, oh, is it have to do with locations, like, no, I just, there was a great a guy I knew and he sent a text around to a couple friends and we were having some beers and he said, I'm usually booked up for months and months and months but I had something open up on Thursday and they said, oh, you know, maybe I should get a tattoo. I said, maybe I should get an ice cream tattoo. And they're like, yeah, go do it. And so I went and did it and that's great, but I want to add some to it...
Townsend: ....but it's been, it's been hard to build.
Watson: So do you recommend that for folks starting a business to get a tattoo, get they're selling before
they actually launch?
Townsend: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. A hundred percent and then, you know, people ask me all the time, like what if Millies goes outta business, which is an awful thing to ask somebody, but you know, you'd be surprised how much you get and I, you know, I don't really have a good answer for that, so I'm like caught off guard. I don't know what I'll do, I guess I'll just tell people I like ice cream.
Watson: Yeah. Well, if you, if there wasn't enough reason to kind of continue working hard at everything.....
Watson: Having to deal with...
Townsend: So I don't look like a fool.
Watson: Yeah. That's really the main reason. Forget the, you know, the family business, part of it. Awesome. Chad, this has been fantastic. I really enjoyed talking about this with you and thank you for the tour. Yeah. Of the facility earlier, before we ask our standard last two questions.
Watson: Was there anything else you were hoping to share today that I just didn't give you a chance to?
Townsend: No, I, I I thought this was a great conversation, had a lot of fun, just, talking about Millies, talking about, you know, being in business, doing fun stuff.
Watson: Right on. Well, if you haven't tried yet, I recommend it. Obviously I had a perfect excuse to take my wife, yeah. To do a little research before the absolutely.
But it's absolutely delicious for folks that wanna learn more. Maybe you can't necessarily make it out to a physical location, what digital coordinates can we provide people that wanna learn more?
Townsend: Yeah. So we've got a large Instagram presence. So, it's just at Millie's is our Instagram presence.Our website Millie's homemade.com. We are on, we are trying to build more presence on other platforms. It becomes difficult without a dedicated person to build that content for you, but that's what people are looking for these days and it's really a great resource. So we're trying to build all those.
Watson: Awesome. We're gonna link all that in the show notes at going beha.com/podcast, where you can find for every episode of the show or in the app. We're probably listening to this right now, but before we let you go, Chad I'd like to give you the mic one final time to issue an actionable personal challenge to the audience.
Townsend: The actionable personable personal challenge is very simple. It is to go spend some of your dollars regardless of what you're currently spending with somebody who lives within 50 miles of your house, it doesn't have to be food, it doesn't have to be clothes, you know, it's a, it's a really weird time we're in and it, there are a lot of online presents that you can certainly buy and I have a tough, you know, sometimes things are tough and I certainly buy things online, but we try to challenge ourselves to go put some money into somebody's pocket that, whether they're making food, whether they're making honey, whether they're making clothes or shoes or arts or crafts or whatever, and it doesn't have to be thousands of dollars.
Townsend: Go spend five more dollars this week with someone and buy a half gallon of local milk....
Townsend: ....but just do that.
Watson: I love it. I also just inspired, obviously you make food. By, you know, there's all this conscientiousness about sustainability, but also like where is locally raised, locally grown, locally made whatever. And the correlation there between the intimacy of the product where, you know, I'm sure that my TV at home was assembled literally on the other side of the planet.
Watson: Before it, you know, was floated across the ocean and hung on, hung on the wall there. But the things you're putting in your body are particularly, and the things you're putting on your body, like you said, clothing....
Watson: ....are particularly salient that you, you know, that's made the right way, made in a kind of a way that's not only good for the overall environment, but good for you.....
Watson: ....from an actual input standpoint, so that's something that I've, you know, I talk about the other challenges I've been doing, that's definitely been one that's on my list.
Townsend: Yeah. And we've, you know, who wants to live in a world where you reduce your face to face contact with another human, I mean, that's what we are made to do right, we're made to interact, and again, like, I know it's easy I, I I've done it, I do it, I just go online and, and buy something and it's sent to my house within 24 hours. But, you know, go talk to a dairy farmer, go, you know, It, it will help everything in the world, it will help you understand what people are going through, it will help you understand what your dollars are going to if just like, okay, we just get up and something arrives at our door and who wants to live in that robotic environment. And I'm not holier than thou. I, like I said, I certainly do all those things, but just go buy a half gallon of milk, go buy a pine of vanilla's ice cream.
Watson: Little bit better every day. Chad, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for coming.
Thanks. Thanks for having me. This is fun.
We just went deep with Chad Townsend, who there has a fantastic day.
Hey, thank you for listening to the end of my conversation with Chad. If you enjoyed it, I guarantee you will also enjoy our past conversation with Bill Sarris of Sarris candies. He talks about turning around a family business and the different engines of his candy empire. Check it out.
Dr. D. Lansing Taylor is the Director at the University of Pittsburgh Drug Discovery Institute and an expert on Computational Biology. He has translated that expertise into more than 29 patents and multiple successful startups
His companies include Biological Detection Systems (now owned by GE Life Sciences), Cellomics (acquired by ThermoFisher), and Cellumen (now part of Cyprotex).
Dr. Taylor’s current companies are Spintellx and BioSystics. Spintellx focuses on computational pathology, using machine learning to identify abnormalities in tissue samples. BioSystics is a database and analytics firm that creates digital twins from complex data for research institutions and Big Pharma clients.
In this episode, Dr. Taylor and Aaron discuss the potential of precision medicine, the application of digital twins, and how doctors will work with data in the future.
Dr. D Lansing Taylor’s Challenge; Continue encouraging your government officials to support basic medical research.
Connect with Dr. D. Lansing Taylor
If you liked this interview, check out Building a Billion Dollar Company Treating Rare Diseases w/ Dr Gordon Vanscoy
Brett Randall is the President and CEO of Aliner, a manufacturer of folding campers and travel trailers.
After selling a family business, Brett was brought in to consult on turning around the 30+ year old RV company. Eventually, his experience in manufacturing optimization, market channel development, and growth led to him being recruited to run the company.
A few years ago he bought out a majority of the shareholders and is building Aliner into a larger part of the growing RV market.
In this episode, Brett and Aaron discuss how he turned around the company, their distribution through select retailers, and how he evolves the product lineup.
Brett Randall’s Challenge; Every month, pick one thing to get done.
Connect with Brett Randall
If you liked this interview, check out our episode with JD Ewing where we discuss how he transformed one of the largest office furniture businesses, the values he instilled in the culture and his method of financial forecasting.
Find links and information referenced in each episode.