Interview: Bite's Lindsay McCormick on When to Go All In
The DTC oral care founder talks sustainability and quitting her day job.
Welcome to Direct-to-Conversation, a recurring interview feature from DTC Magazine. These conversations highlight insights, advice, and innovation strategies from leading thinkers in the DTC, eCommerce, and retail space. Our most recent interview was with Nate Checketts, who is the co-founder and CEO of Rhone, the DTC premium men's performance lifestyle company.
In this Direct-to-Conversation, we catch up with Lindsay McCormick, the founder and CEO of Bite, the sustainability-focused DTC oral care brand.
DTC Magazine: I'm curious about how you came up with Bite. It's such a creative concept. What was your eureka moment?
Lindsay McCormick: I've always been passionate about the environment and I've always tried to make responsible eco decisions. Before Bite, I was working as a TV producer, and so I was on a plane like every other week. I had sorted my kit out to where I could have my shampoo in its own little bottle and my conditioner in its own little bottle as well as my face wash. And I would use the same bottles every time.
But the one thing that I was always throwing out with my toothpaste and I just thought, ‘This is so wasteful. I feel like I'm going through this little tiny toothpaste tube every week. I started looking into it, and that's when I learned about the over one billion toothpaste tubes that end up in our landfills and oceans and just wondering, ‘Wait, why does this even need to come in a tube?’ Then, I started looking into alternatives and different ingredients. And that's when I started really wanting to make something that's more sustainable and healthy. I had gone through my shampoo and conditioner ingredients and I was using mineral-based sunscreen. But then here I am using toothpaste and I had never even read the ingredients. And there’s some terrible stuff in there.
I started taking online chemistry courses and talking to dentists and dental hygienists. And I started to make my own. I didn't think it was gonna be tablets. I tried to make little tiny balls that I would bake in my oven instead; all these different ways of trying to find out how I can put these in a glass bottle. Also, tooth powder and toothpaste tablets had been out before. There were some brands that were doing it, but they were all packaged in plastic, first of all, and they had ingredients that didn't really make sense. And so I wanted to figure out how to do this better. And then finally, I knew I needed to buy a tableting machine.
It was actually when I purchased it that this hobby became something that I was investing in. After putting $1000 into this tableting machine, I decided that I was gonna sell it online. And so, I started a Shopify store and an Etsy store, and I took photos of my little glass bottle of my tablets, and I started selling it on those two sites. That's kind of how it all started.
I wanted to make it for myself, and then once I started doing this time investment and this money investment, I wanted to be able to recoup that in some way. And that was the beginning.
I realized, “Oh my god, I need to manufacture. I need business insurance, oh my god.”
DTC: A lot of these great, early days founder stories involved this kind of scrappy tinkering. Do you have a favorite story from the start of this and the whole experiment? A moment that really stands out?
LM: At the beginning, it was just kind of tinkering in my makeshift lab, which was just a bunch of ingredients on my dining room table. And listening to music and researching and playing with different powders and different flavors and different weights and just putting something together. And I felt because it was really just for me, for my own problem, I didn't feel rushed. It very much felt like I was like making art or something like that. It was a good space and time.
I stayed in making it myself for the first year. I would put together these batches, and then I would press them out on the tableting machine in our dining room, and then sell them online. And so, it was like that for an entire year. And then we ended up going viral. And then when that happened, it was just insane.
We had a video on Women's Health get picked up. It had two million views and like $200,000 in sales within the first few days. And I realized, “Oh my god, I need to manufacture. I need business insurance, oh my god.” That was when it shifted into a totally different orbit.
A lot of times when it's a product that is “better,” it ends up not tasting as good or it falls short in other places.
DTC: Obviously, there are people who don’t travel a lot (especially now) or may not be as mindful about in general about what they consume. After all, toothpaste isn’t one of those things we tend to think too much about? So how do you make the case for your brand with this kind of challenge of a product that we take for granted? Until we're in the middle of nowhere without it and really wish we had it.
LM: For sure, I never thought I'd be thinking about toothpaste much! I never saw this coming. I think it's all about the fact that every single thing that we do has an impact on the planet and whether that's gonna be a good one or bad one. And things as simple as what you use as your toothpaste to how you choose to live your life, what you eat, everything has a consequence to the planet, whether it's good or bad or neutral. And I think that people are starting to really see that more.
I think, especially right now with COVID and what’s happened, people are really seeing that we're all very interconnected and that health is something that's so important. And people are questioning more the ingredients and where things are made and what they're putting in their body. You look at climate change and see how it's impacting things, all these consequences we’re seeing in real life, no matter where you live.
And I also think that people just need to have easy solutions. So for us, one of the things about building Bite—it wasn't just about something that was better for the planet and better for you, it needed to actually taste good and it needed to work. It needed to be something that you wanted to have on your vanity. A lot of times when it's a product that is “better,” it ends up not tasting as good or it falls short in other places. And for us, it was really important that it tastes just as good as everything else I've ever used.
There are going to be more products that fit that definition and eventually it's gonna be easier for people to make those choices from here on out.
There are new things coming out every day and I try to stay on top of that instead of using what's always been done.
DTC: Right and that is so important. And with sustainability being a huge part of the pitch for certain products, it tends to overshadow the item itself. So how do you balance the mission of Bite in terms of sustainability without overshadowing the strength of the products or letting it complicate the image of it being a good product.
LM: For us, it's all about efficacy. We use nano-hydroxyapatite, which is a non-toxic fluoride alternative that's been approved for use in Japan and Canada as anti-cavity. And we use that specifically because it aligns with our values of the company while still being natural and non-toxic but still being incredibly effective. And so we added that specifically from talking to dentists. Being involved in the space and making sure that we're making the most safe and effective product.
The way that brands can combat that, while still staying true to their values is to work with experts in the space and listen and to look at new technologies. I mean, there are new things coming out every day and I try to stay on top of that instead of using what's always been done. Then it’s also taking the time to educate your customer on why you've made these choices.
Your day job kind of acts as an investor in your company.
DTC: So how did you know when it was time to quit your day job and go pro with this? And what advice would you have for somebody who's on the cusp (or maybe the cuspid in this case) of breaking through?
LM: I stayed at my day job probably way longer than I should have. Bite had started going crazy and we had started growing. And I was still working as a TV producer—I was head of my department—and so I wanted to make sure that I had the right person in and that I didn't leave them in a bad spot.
I definitely would recommend to people, to founders who want to go full-in on their dream: I get why you'd want to do that. But I'm the one saying, ‘If you stay with your day job for as long as you can, it can really takes the pressure off of this baby bird company that you're growing and you don't have to feed yourself from it. You can make all of the right choices and you can do the right things.' And that's what worked for me.
I think that if I would have quit my job earlier and tried to go all in, it would have definitely polluted the beginning where you're just trying to make a quick buck and make sure that you can feed yourself as opposed to if you stick with your day job until you really feel that pull that you have to leave it.
Your day job kind of acts as an investor in your company. The money that I was making as a TV producer, I funneled into Bite so I was able to make those choices in the beginning that other brands might not be able to. We used glass, which is more expensive, and I use more expensive packaging. And I could do that because I was using money from my TV job.
I’ll say too that the work ethic you learn from working a full-time job and building your start-up is what you're gonna need to run it. It ends up taking your days and your nights and your weekends. You work your 9-to-5 and then you work on your start-up from 5-to-2 and then you just do it again the next day, right?