What did those beginning days of your company look like?
Skyler Mapes (14:53): I was thinking about this the other day. We were crazy. We were insane. This was in 2017. I can't even... if I knew what I knew now, I would be terrified for myself. I'd be like, "Good. Luck." Thank god ignorance is truly bliss. Do not think too much. You'll get scared.
(15:23) But looking back, we just wanted to create something beautiful and share it with people. And we were not 100% sure how that was going to happen. We knew we wanted to do in-person shows to sell the product. We knew the product had to be very high quality. We knew what we wanted it to feel like. Exau had from the very beginning, a soul, I guess you could say. There was motion around it there. It felt like a living being, almost. We want every single person to have a little piece of Calabria in their kitchen and feel like they can make the most delicious things with just olive oil and whatever ingredient they're using, and that should be the end of it. Whether it's bread or eggs or just eggplant, that's enough.
How did you bring your product from Italy to the US market?
(20:48) As far as selling in the US, we went in knowing “nobody knows who we are.” No retailers were willing to work with us. We tried to sell wholesale. And so we were like, “You know what? If our margin is already going to be so low selling to wholesale accounts, why don't we just sell it ourselves and see who wants it?” And so that's what we did. My mom's a nurse and she worked in Oakland for years and she was like, “you need to come to the nurses’ break room at Highland Hospital and bring a ton of cases of oil because the nurses want a tasting.” And I grew up at Highland Hospital because my mom worked there for years. So we pull up in the parking lot, go into the nurses' lounge, and we do a full tasting. The nurses were wild, I love them. They're just coming in and out, in and out, in and out of the break room doing tastings. “Get me a bottle! I'll Venmo you! Get me this! Get me that! Okay, I'll take a case!” They were giving us the keys to their cars. They're like, “I'm parked on level 3, just put it in the back of my car.” This is really how we got started. And of course events like yours [Girl Gang Craft Fairs].
So what do you say to people just starting out as small business owners who might need a publicist since it’s sometimes expensive? What was that investment like for you, and what paid off for you?
Skyler Mapes (29:31): If you're going to make that investment, you need to know exactly what you want out of it. You need to make a fat ass list. “I want back links”, “I want to be able to put this on my website”, “I want to be able to bring it to investors.” Why do you want it? If you just want it just to feed your ego, that's really not a good enough reason. You need to have very exact reasons why you want that press because, to be honest with you, there are so many incredible brands that are selling a ton of stuff and making really good money without being in those publications. Especially today with platforms like TikTok going viral, you don't have to be in these publications anymore. And I think that's really scary for them. So that is something to consider. Do you have to do it? Are there other ways to get the exposure you want? And being in these huge publications does not guarantee sales. You will get clout, but clout does not always guarantee sales
But if you had to do publicity over again, you would still do it, right?
Skyler Mapes (31:00): Yeah, I mean it helped us to position us exactly where I wanted it to be, especially after “Oprah's favorite things.” Then I was on Forbes’ “30 under 30.” All of the relationships I have now with journalists are from not being scared to talk to them. Because that's another thing…people kind of get intimidated by members of the press, which I think is really funny because they're just people at the end of the day, they really are. If you talk to a journalist at CNN, like yes, it's such a big thing. But at the end of the day, they're just people too, and they want to hear your story. And I think that if you are also going to try and get press for your brand, you need to have your story very tightly buttoned up and be extremely confident in what you are and what you aren't and where you're going, where you're not going, what you're doing, what you're not doing. Be as clear as possible and don't be afraid to say exactly what's on your mind or be like, “that doesn't sit well with me.” Journalists don't want to talk to someone who's just agreeable all the time. It doesn’t make for a good story. And who's going to click on that? Is your story clickable?
What does your marketing strategy look like today?
Skyler Mapes (33:30): I am moving away from social media ever since we've written our book. It took two years to write our book, and it pulled us away from doing certain things that I wish we had spent the time and energy investing in before. But it allowed me to create space to realize what I am good at. What I want to do is directly connect with people through our newsletter and potentially through either a podcast or something in that world. I don't want to spend all day on social media. I'm really not interested in making video content all the time. It doesn't interest me. I get bored, I get over it very quickly. It's exhausting. But I love writing.
What is your favorite thing to cook with Exau olive oil?
Skyler Mapes (42:45): Oh my god, that's not fair. Okay, there's a couple things. So recently we've been cooking steak over the fireplace, which is nice because then it doesn't stink up the house. But also we've been doing a cast iron skillet. So we get the hot coals, we put the cast iron skillet on, and then we do half butter, half olive oil… whoever said the two cannot coexist? So you put those two into the pan, you put the steak in, and you add rosemary, sage, or whatever herbs…maybe some smashed garlic. And it's perfect because the fats play so well together and the flavors develop perfectly. That is one of my top favorite things to make with olive oil. I also love popcorn, which the recipe's going to be in our book (coming soon in August 2023). And then olive oil brownies… that recipe is also going to be in our book.