Anything is Popsicle
My name is David Greenfeld, I’m the CEO and co-founder of Dream Pops and we’re building a next generation confectionary business.
Dream Pops began as a plant-based ice cream bar, and evolved into a platform brand that re-imagines confectionary products. Anything that is a tired, antiquated dessert or confectionary product will be reimagined for the next generation with super foods, adaptogens and functional ingredients – always 100% plant-based. These will pertain to a modern diet and someone who really cares about wellness, but is looking for permissible indulgence.
I grew up in a family where both of my parents were entrepreneurs. Growing up in an environment where two parents were both very passionate, hungry and radically innovative to go after their respective dreams conditioned me to appreciate and basically want to emulate that. Watching my dad build his company within the entertainment industry, and watching my mom create her own community as a rabbi and cantor was amazing. They really created their own worlds, organizations and foundations, which I grew up around and aspire to do.
I would also say I was fortunate enough to be around people that were celebrating and sharing in the excitement behind radically testing and trying different things, opposed to limiting your scope and forcing you to color within the lines. This allowed me to try all sorts of things, like writing music, producing beats, writing songs, performing live on stage and really getting to explore that creative side. I definitely see myself as an artist and a lot of that artistry has translated to what we do now with Dream Pops.
During my sophomore and junior summer of college, I had a couple internships that were really crucial towards my affinity towards food and beverage. This is where I fell in love with CPG (Consumer packaged goods). My first real internship was with Jesse Itzler in New York for a company called One Hundred Mile Route.
Jesse is one of a kind and a visionary. He founded Marquis Jet, creating the concept of the 24 hour billable card. Basically, instead of purchasing a jet, you purchase hours on a Marquis Jet card and fly private for a more affordable price point. He built a business around that and really radically changed the aviation industry through an incredible entrepreneurial model. Before Marquis Jet, he was a white Jewish rapper that had a record deal on Delicious Vinyl, made theme songs for huge sports franchises. He wrote the Go New York Knicks anthem and built a business around that. He radically tested and innovated across multiple industries and disciplines and was able to create successful businesses through his network of relationships and creativity.
Jesse created a fund called 100 Mile Group which was a marketing agency tied to an investment vehicle and fund. In this he would invest in companies like Zico coconut Water or wellness CPG brands. He used what he believed then, were these social media tools that could allow brands to scale at rates they have never done so in the past. I watched him use Facebook, Facebook groups, and Twitter to really scale these better-for–you wellness brands. I watched him do it with Zico Coconut water and even watched him leverage some of these celebrity relationships on social media.
He built the country’s biggest coconut water brand over the course of two and a half years and ended up selling it to Coke. He did that a few times with a handful of other brands and I got to see the model he was creating. He was basically tapping into influencers, celebrities and social media, and he was building these next generation brands in the mid 2000s.
Something I’ve noticed is if you look at Nestle or Unilever, they’ve marginally innovated because they’ve monopolized the industry. So, all it would take is some folks who could bring enough capital together and get enough attention via these social media tools to build the next channel brands. Deep down, this is something I knew I wanted to do.
I fell in love when I worked for Jesse and I actually tried to start a business right away. My friend Max Hinchman and I built a company called Just Wine. It was a novel concept where we were trying to take the iPhone unboxing experience, and fuse that with a boxed wine. We wanted to make box wine luxurious and instead of putting wine into a bottle, you put it into a beautiful box. The tag line was “Twice the quantity, twice the quality, half the arrogance”.
We thought this was a unique way to market wine so we got some traction and a handful of accounts. Funny story, when we were working on the supply chain side we got yeast into the bags and the bags ended up exploding in those small food stores. We got blacklisted from Whole Foods and it was kind of a sign that made me realize I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t passionate about wine, but I was passionate about the brand, marketing, and what we were building. I decided the next business I start has to be something that’s all consuming every single day that I believed in, love, and have some sort of connection to. I knew that if and when the opportunity came, I was going to jump into my next CPG venture. I love branding, CPG and food — it’s really fun, creative and there’s an artistry to it. You’re creating healthier products and putting them in the hands of more people.
I decided to jump into investment banking and Houlihan Lokey came up as a great opportunity. I wanted to get the skill set, understand what the margins really look like, how to raise capital and how to really build and scale a company. I spent two years working in L.A. and then I actually moved to Milan with the company for another two years. When I was abroad I was more focused on consumer retail mergers and acquisitions. While in Milan, it’s the birthplace of gelato, so I was always looking at ice cream. I’d be eating pints of ice cream or gelato, eating Haagen Dazs bars and I started getting a lot of stomach aches. I realized I wasn’t good with dairy, so I started pulling research reports because I felt like ice cream was an antiquated category.
In the same way that I would do when I worked for Jesse, I would look at categories and do analysis on opportunities. I was also watching Pressed Juicery and what they were doing for the juice market and thought maybe there was a way to apply the same to better for you wellness concept to frozen novelties and frozen indulgence. Serendipitously, I came across a food scientist and a three-star Michelin chef who were working on a beta version of what Dream Pops is today. I flew to Berlin to meet with them and tried the product. My gut told me this is it, that I needed to take this back to the states and go all-in.
After researching the space and looking at all these reports on ice cream, I realized it was dominated by Wells, Unilever and Nestle. I called David Cohen, who’s my now co-founder. We then called our first few investors who believed in what we were building and told them what the vision was.
With Houlihan Lokey, I was having the biggest internal struggle. I remember this like it was yesterday – It was a Friday, I was exhausted and I had just finished another deal when I got called in that night to come into the office. I was told that we needed to get something done by Monday and I’d be spending the entire weekend in the office. Saturday I got in around noon and worked until 10 pm. I was sitting at my desk thinking, is this really worth it? Is this really what I want to do with my life? After four and a half years of killing myself, looking at the financial gain and what I was really getting out of it, I could tell it was affecting my psyche and my health. So, I actually assessed and boiled it down to what would be a bigger risk. The older you get the harder it is to make a change like this, and this felt like the best time to make the leap and do better for myself.
I remember when I called my boss and specifically told him I was quitting, I felt really guilty. I had an amazing opportunity to go to Italy, but I felt like – Am I throwing my life away? Will this ruin my career?
When I was talking to people initially about starting a popsicle business, I was embarrassed, people were making fun of me. None of them were able to understand my narrative or understand the opportunity that I could see. I think that’s the biggest struggle – to go into a career where you become financially secure for four to five, six, seven, 10 years and then have to change that foundation and go into something so high risk. I just had to do it for me because that was the path that made the most sense.
Initially, I didn’t just quit Houlihan and then launch the business. For a year I worked with my co-founder David Cohen, who I was lucky enough, quit his job early and I was self-funding the company with him. Over a two week summer break, we had brought manufacturing equipment overseas and brought it all back to the states. The idea was I would work from Milan and provide financing, and David would be the boots on the ground in manufacturing. So I would put together pitch decks late at night, weekends or whenever I was at work and we would send them to businesses because we had a product.
For that first year, David was going and meeting with clients and we realized, because we can 3D print any shape into a pop, we could pitch this as an advertising tool. We probably pitched to 50 or 60 different businesses and our first clients were Apple & Beats by Dre. We put together a professional looking presentation and deck, we created a Beats by Dre logo dream up for their Coachella party and they fell in love.
It was a really beautiful design and they agreed to commit. We closed and took that deal, took the capital from the profits of the event and reinvested it into the business. We got a lot of hype on social media and we started building the brand, investing in social media and trying to figure out what we had.
We took that one brand deal and then we won a deal with Bumble and won a deal with Patron. We kept using all these case studies to build out more and more brand awareness. Eventually we did over 100K in sales just from these partnerships while I’m overseas and David is a one man show.
We just kept on growing the business, the awareness of our brand and people were excited about it. David and I realized we didn’t want to be in the experiential marketing business but we wanted to build a CPG brand with all of these relationships.
We pivoted that marketing catering business into what is now the retailer / grocery aisle. We had done a lot of R&D testing, different packaging iterations and were starting to sell some products online. We finally came across single serve pouches and the four pack pouch and eventually ended up getting into Whole Foods June of 2019. Now we’re in about 1000+ grocery stores.
What I really believe is, if you just launch a brand with zero brand awareness, you’re going to go on that shelf and die a very slow death. The way we looked at the first year and a half of brand building, we started with boots on the ground marketing and we got over one hundred and fifty thousand people to try to drink locally in our backyard. We built up brand awareness with some incredible brands like Nike, SoulCycle, and Beats by Dre and they were all eating Dream Pops.
If there’s brand awareness from people who have consumed Dream Pops, and you go onto that shelf, you’d see really strong sell through and velocity. We built the brand ourselves and Erewhon was really the first believer and then the product started to move and sell. You have to find ways to create a real community of people who support what you’re doing.
You also need a product that is truly differentiated in the category, a narrative, a beautiful aesthetic in a community that all comes together in kind of an artform. What I would recommend to any founder trying to break into grocery is make sure your product is differentiated. It’s not enough to be a marketing company. There are a lot of food and beverage brands that are marketing companies and that day is over. I just don’t believe in that thesis.
We’ve been doing this for four years and I genuinely love the process, I love what we do. So, for founders that are doing this, why are you doing it? Are you doing it for a quick exit or is there something more profound for you?
For us there are three strategic pillars that describe our “Why?”. We want to inspire people to go after their dreams. I look at these founders and entrepreneurs like Howard Schultz who took a commodity like coffee and he created one of the most impactful companies of modern times. He redefined what it means to be a capitalist in 2020 with a number of different social and employee initiatives.
In addition to that, we want to put healthier products in the hands of more people. We identified a category and noticed that there was a ton of sugar, high fructose corn syrup and just bad ingredients in the product category. When you look at who’s consuming our products, oftentimes it’s families and children. I can remember as a kid eating a ton of those ice cream pops with gumball eyes, candies, sweets all of that. If you can replace that with something that’s a little bit healthier and better for you, the compounded impact is real.
Finally, there’s really this artistry and excitement around really wanting to create the Willy Wonka of plant based desserts. It’s Disney-fying the brand and the theme in this community that we’re trying to build.
We see Dream Pops as a digital and content first company. We built the brand on Instagram but more recently our channels include LinkedIn and Tik Tok. Tik Tok is currently our biggest channel and something we’re investing heavily in. We’ve also been looking at Twitch, Pinterest and Tik Tok Live so we can create contextual content across all of these platforms.
It’s everything from our product, to healthy living, to inspirational and whimsical design and dreamscapes to inspire people. In addition to that, we’re on Community, which is a text based platform which has been great because I’m very long on SMS conversation with customers as opposed to sell through. We have amazing people who we text through our community and my intent is not to sell but just communicate with them. The response rate on that is incredible.
We do also have a website but our primary core business is wholesale through all national grocers, conventional grocers, convenience stores, food service and other countries.
First, people who claim to be experts don’t necessarily have the best advice. Every playbook for building a brand is different. The thinking that you can take a Harvard case study or another brand’s playbook and apply them to a new company, for the most part, doesn’t work. New playbooks are written every single day, and while I do think it is important to read and understand them, applying an old playbook just isn’t going to work the same.
My biggest keystone has been learning patience. Patience is essential. I’m a millennial so I’ve learned the hard way that we expect things to happen fast — when often the best CPG stories are ten, fifteen, event forty year stories. I look at Tate’s bake shop, it’s a 600 million dollar exit, and it took her 40 years to build that company.
I genuinely love the process and what we do and I think it’s important to. I love our brand and product, I love R&D and where we could take this thing. I love the idea that this product can extend into all sorts of CPG products and maybe even beyond food and beverage into content and all sorts of verticals.
Nothing trumps personal experience, optimism and persistence. I think you really need to push yourself. This whole experience has put such an immense pressure on me to see what I’m capable of, and I’m sometimes blown away when I take a step back. There are moments when I almost gave up. I remember we once had a pallet of product fully melt and we were pivoting from e-commerce and trying to figure out retail. I was going into stores and just trying to convince buyers to take us. You’ll be blown away by what you’re capable of when your back is up against the wall.
Passion, perseverance and purpose.
I still think it’s quitting my job and starting Dream Pops. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my entire life. I called every single person I knew and I think the most challenging part was what people think about you or say to you.
The judgement, critique and noise that comes from the first 24-36 months of starting something was so hard. I’ve had moments where people come up to me and say things like “Oh I thought you were doing so well, why are you selling popsicles now?” I think it’s all about framing, but it was still so challenging for me.
My dad’s friends would ask what I was up to and he would respond with “David’s got a popsicle business”. I would watch their reactions to that versus how they used to when he would say I was an I-banker and that was so hard for me. He wouldn’t say it in a critique but rather he was just being frank. He pulled me aside one night and said “David, when I built my company, everyone made fun of me for being the movie trailer guy for Ant Farm. They made jokes about me so I bought an ant farm. I owned it just like you need to own the popsicles”.
I also think that going to the popsicle stand is such a crucial metaphor that most people don’t have the ego or ability to accept — to just supersede above that and just not care what other people think. I’m happy being the popsicle guy, I’ll own that all day.
I think there are different types of challenges. One for me is my ego. I went to business school, I was an investment banker, I was on this trajectory and the critique of others was a huge challenge for me. I had to learn how to deal with that. There are also financial challenges that come with doing something like this, and I didn’t take a salary for a really long time. I transitioned to a different style of living and had to figure out what was important to me.
Investors and deadlines were also incredible pressures. There’s a difference when you’re working for somebody versus when you‘re leading an organization. It’s your responsibility to be the face and be optimistic, lead in a certain way with humility, respect and kindness. I believe that you, as the CEO of a company, and even as a co-founder, stand for something. You need to think about every action that you have, how you hold yourself, and how you treat other people.
I guess the biggest challenge would be assuming that role and understanding the best way to hold yourself accountable. It’s admitting your weaknesses, really paying attention to your strengths and also hiring out for your weaknesses. I think it’s also about being able to trust other people with deliverables and asking for help.
I’ve never been more energized and excited. I used to live for optimizing my week for the weekends, but now I work Saturdays and Sundays. I think my formula is different, which is why we will win. I just love the process.
Where am I at now? I look at the greats and I look at what wealth is like. I love the people who are visionaries like Howard Schultz, Kanye, Jay Z and the way they’ve created their own universe and effectively their own worlds. I see an ability to look at brands like Hello Kitty or Disney and I think there’s a way to transcend food and beverage. I think there’s a way to create this platform of plant based food, and on the content side, release characters or animation products that live within this dream world if you will.
I get so excited, I mean our tagline is Anything is Popsicle. We’ve talked to collaborators about what the ice cream shop of the future looks like. I’ve experimented with animation and what characters in our “dream world” might look like. We’ve talked about new product extensions like candies, chocolate bars, anything that’s a plant-based dessert or treat.
My focus is on macro legacy, living everyday with purpose and in the right intent. I’d love to get to a place where I get to wake up, build and achieve financial stability and provide the same opportunities to my children that I was. I get to be an artist and love what I do.
Slack – Used for tracking, shelf optimization, + team wide communication for our merchandising teams across the country.
Instagram – Creating content daily. Tap into DM’s for brand collabs and new retailer meetings.
LinkedIn – Publishing articles daily. Send Inmails for brand collabs and new retailer meetings.
Tik Tok – Creating content daily. New shows and creator DM’s daily.
Pinterest – Work in progress.
Twitch – Work in progress.
Quickbooks – Great for accounting backend. Combined with Union Crate for EDI ordering processes.
Inquire – Every time you make a purchase online , it will then ask the person at the end of the transaction how they heard about the company. This helps you know where your leads are coming from.
Over – Content creation / design on static photos.
Dropbox – Database for all our files.
Shopify – Dream Pops website. Great plugins like Store Rocket for store locator and Bold for subscription.
Twitter – Creating content weekly.
Facebook – Creating content weekly.
RedFox Analytics – backed analytics for our retail partners + use to gauge performance in store.
Books: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – This just ties into incredible perseverance and just finding the ways to really make things happen.
Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz – This is about building Starbucks one cup at a time.
Startup Playbook – In this book, they interview the top 100 entrepreneurs, has quotes by them and a page or two dedicated to how they build their companies.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel – This is a great book about creating Alpha.
I got to this point where I was obsessed with reading about Founder’s stories that I would read any book I could get my hands on. Eventually, I had this realization that you can read these stories as many times as you want, but every playbook has its own and you’re not going to build yours from someone’s else’s playbook.
Podcasts: How I Built This
2pm – A subscription newsletter with amazing information
The power of a cold email or a cold phone call is strong. Some of our biggest breakthroughs are a coffee chat, a Linked message, an email or a phone call. You are one phone call or LinkedIn message away from your next big breakthrough.
Learning to live in Excel through banking and learning how to model was essential. It’s been a game changer for me to be able to jump in Excel and build out our unit economics, projections and understand our P&L and balance sheet. A cash flow statement is essential for me personally. Everyone thinks you need to pay for a course on learning to create content. It’s just as easy as buying a camera, or even starting out by using your phone. I think there is such an obsession with hiring a huge agency and paying them a big retainer because you think they’re going to change your business. You’d be surprised what you can get accomplished if you live in a social media app and make a thousand pieces of content yourself. It may take a lot of time, but eventually you’ll know what you need and can outsource that or bring on freelancers to do it. I run our entire marketing program and I think we do a great job with a group of freelancers, plus it’s cost effective.
I would say go work for a founder that you’re really inspired and impressed by. I think if I were going to do it again, I’d take the same route. It probably helped with fundraising and I would’ve never had the knowledge on the finance side. The only other route I would’ve gone is if I would’ve found an entrepreneur that I aspired to emulate. I would’ve even just shadowed them for free.
I consume as much content as I can like the newsletters or research reports. I try and stay in the know, in my space specifically, and just get a feel for what’s happening. Both the data and technical sorts, the qualitative of new brand launches, new strategies being deployed to gain market share. Any new innovation in frozen, in vegan and plant based so I can get a feel for what’s going on. We have a Slack group with a bunch of food and beverage founders in which we all share materials and reports, and sometimes even investors will share industry or research reports. I also love listening to how other founders built their businesses on podcast because it’s a more strategic solution than reading a book. Books can take years to get published, so podcasts are more relevant because you can hear a new tactic and apply it to your business quicker. I also love to hop on calls, coffee chats, or Zoom meetings with other founders in the space. The amount of value that gets shared during those is incredible.
If you want to be great, it requires sacrifice. You have to really dig deep and think about what those sacrifices are going to be and commit to them. I don’t believe in side hustles. If you’re really going to build a brand, it can’t be a side hustle.
Humility is super important, and you have to treat people well and help others. That value always comes back tenfold. There have been so many people that have lent me a hand and changed my career, and got nothing in return but helped me build my life. They believed in our vision and if I can provide value in any way to other people in the same way I plan to do so.
Even just taking a step back. I think one of my biggest challenges right now is I’m so obsessed with the company that certain friendships have fallen to the wayside, and that’s a sacrifice I had to be ok with. I know when I’m in a more comfortable place, where I can have a better balance and I will invest in those things. Right now this is what’s required of me and I have certain obligations to it. You have to keep going, and keep pushing.