Podcasts   //   December 3, 2020

‘It’s never easy’: Clorox’s Jackson Jeyanayagam on hiring DTC talent in a post-pandemic world

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As the pandemic’s third wave mounts, Clorox wipes are still a hot commodity — the product’s shortage is expected to last into the new year. That outsized demand has led to a bump in sales for the company overall, and a stock that’s risen by a third this year.

Clorox’s general manager of DTC Jackson Jeyanayagam, who oversees new digital business ventures and brands for the CPG giant, said that the edge extended to hiring power.

“Here I come at Clorox trying to sell someone to come from a Netflix, an Airbnb or Warby Parker or Peloton and come work for me at Clorox, which no one ever thinks of as DTC,” Jeyanayagam said on the Modern Retail Podcast. “It’s never easy to hire great talent. But it’s not nearly the same as it was exactly 12 months ago.”

On this week’s episode, he spoke about how he approaches hiring, what new ways Clorox is trying to build out its DTC channel as well as how the company is looking into new areas and product lines.

Burt’s Bees, a subsidiary owned by Clorox, recently launched a CBD line, for example, and it brought about a few unique challenges. Some marketing channels are unavailable to a hemp-based products, Jeyanayagam said, and the product line can only sell in 25 states. “It’s very saturated despite that. There’s a lot of noise, and there’s a lot of bad players.”

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

On building a custom DTC tech stack
“The first thing I wanted to do was get the brands eventually off third-party cloud solutions like Magento and Salesforce and move them to a custom tech stack. I didn’t want to be on Shopify either. For scale, for cost, for a lot of reasons. I wanted to control my own product roadmap, or build out whatever features we want and not be beholden to what that platform has. So we built it out. But to build out a platform, you can either migrate existing brands onto it, which comes with some risk, or you can build a brand new brand on top of it — and also show Clorox and other CPGs what it could look like to incubate and iterate innovation.

For CPG, innovation usually comes in different scents, different packaging size [and] different varietals. It’s not ‘launch a brand new brand and a brand new site.’ So I wanted to do a couple things: test out the liabilities and stability of my technology platform as a commerce platform. But also build a brand and show them how we could iterate and maybe launch in five years, four brands, and maybe two of them fail in the portfolio and two of them do really well. And by the way, we spend a lot less money doing that than I would in a year and a half with big research firms and a lot of money spent to then launch something nationally that doesn’t go anywhere.”

How the hiring market has changed for Clorox
“It was hard, very, very hard. And then the pandemic hit. And by April, we were still hiring aggressively. And as you know, many people weren’t. By May, a lot of people were laying people off, people from great startups. A lot of the great startups started having some attrition, which really sucks. But then what I found was I had a lot of people who, when I was interviewing them before, said ‘hey, I’d love to work with you. I like what you’re doing. I just can’t get my head around Clorox.’ And these are some people I worked with, somebody who had hired before and other companies, I still couldn’t get them to come work with me. Now, at least half came back to me within two months of the pandemic saying, ‘hey, are you still looking?’ I’m actually interested. I realized where the country is going and the opportunity you guys have, it’s really interesting.’ And I don’t blame them. I would have said the same thing too.

It was a hard sell for me to come here. So it was really interesting, it was almost a tale of three different Cloroxes: When I started, and then the stage when I hired the exec team and then there was post-pandemic. I won’t say it’s easy — it’s never easy to hire great talent — but it’s not nearly the same as it was exactly 12 months ago when I would post a job and get not as much talent as I wanted.”

Move slow and don’t break things
“Start-ups always have that mentality: ‘move fast, move fast. That’s our point of differentiation.’ Which is true, sometimes start-ups move fast for the sake of it. They’re not taking that minute to think about ‘why are we moving fast? Do we actually need to move fast?’ Because when you move at such a fast clip, you do miss things sometimes. It’s inevitable. So I think the challenge for some of the startups is they move fast without thinking about it. What we did was we had to force ourselves to say, ‘hey, do we need to move fast on this? If we launched in October versus July, is that the end of the world?’ And we learned it wasn’t. We actually took our time and did it right versus just running through it to get it for a random date that was assigned. And for my sanity — gray hairs, I have a lot of them — I was able to maintain some black hairs because it gave the team two months more just to do this right.”

Learning how to launch a CBD line
“Burt’s Bees is a brand that has a very specific design, aesthetic [and] point of view. You can talk to anyone who’s 15 — I have a bunch of nephews and nieces who are teenagers who love the brand — and anyone who’s 50. They all know it. So it’s an interesting brand, that way that it has relevance across several generations — which is very hard for something that’s not just a deodorant or soap or something. So that one was interesting, because they have their brand. We’re not going to reinvent the brand. But our goal is ‘how do we make it relevant from a DTC conversion, optimizing a funnel standpoint?’ There’s a lot of back and forth there. We had to learn the brand, essentially.

Two: CBD, specifically… how do we launch CBD when you can’t use several marketing channels? They won’t let you market. It’s very saturated despite that. There’s a lot of noise, and there’s a lot of bad players. There’s just a lot of crap out there that’s making all these promises that they legally cannot do. Thirdly, how do we just ship it to you? If you’re in New York, you can’t get it. You can see the site, but you can’t get it. So how do we manage expectations? So that was a big learning. We’re still learning it, to be quite honest.”