CEO and Founder of Sampler, Marie Chevrier sat down with CanadianSME to discuss her inspiration behind founding her company, the strategies she uses to grow her company, and as CEO, the biggest challenges she faced in business and how she overcame those challenges.
Marie Chevrier is the CEO and Founder of Sampler – the leading direct to consumer sampling platform. Marie founded Sampler with a vision to transform the way consumer packaged goods companies distribute product samples and though it started small, Sampler has grown quickly into a booming digital business. Today, her company has been listed as one of Canada’s Fastest Growing startups by Canadian Business and Growth 500 and has received investment from the world’s biggest global beauty manufacturer, L’Oréal. Sampler has worked with some of the top CPG brands in the world like Unilever, Henkel, Mondelez International, and Kimberly-Clark reaching over 50 million consumers globally in 17 different countries.
What inspired you to found Sampler? What are you hoping to accomplish through it?
While in college, I worked with experiential firms where I distributed product samples in grocery stores and on street corners and always felt that product sampling could be a lot more targeted and measurable. Brands, at that point, really didn’t have any idea of who exactly was receiving the samples I was distributing and whether or not that was converting into a purchase. After a few years, I started working at a reputable marketing agency that taught me the ins and outs of digital marketing. Right around that time, I started getting the “entrepreneurial bug” but knew I needed a bit more experience under my belt so I started working with a venture capital firm where I had the opportunity to be an entrepreneur in residence for a couple of years. A few years and so many lessons later, I decided to come back to Canada and merge my experience in marketing and tech to found Sampler. I knew I wanted to develop a sampling solution that could help brands deliver physical product samples to digitally targeted consumers while gathering the consumer feedback they needed. I drew up an idea of what I wanted Sampler to look like and with nothing more than a few rough mock up; I sold my first client before the technology even existed. I had about two months to find a developer to make my ideas come to life and from there Sampler was born. I’m so proud to say that today we’ve worked with some top CPG brands in the world like Unilever, Henkel, Mondelez International, L’Oréal and Kimberly-Clark and have reached over 50 million consumers globally in 24 different countries. My hope with Sampler is to continue helping brands who’ve been using the same product sampling strategies for decades and have grown to believe that blindly distributing them is as efficient as sampling can get. I want to keep changing the traditional way of distributing samples and continue to build products that optimize the experience of consumers and brands alike on our platform.
Sampler is revolutionizing the way companies distribute their products to consumers. Would you say that Sampler demonstrates innovation through its way of doing business?
Absolutely! Brands have been handing out product samples the same way for a long time and Sampler was first to offer the market a solution that could help them change that. The platform offers brands of all sizes and categories the unique opportunity to build personalized relationships with consumers. Not only are brands now able to strategically deliver samples to targeted consumers, but gather the deep insights they need to continue building that relationship and ultimately measure the impact every sample has on purchase.
Sampler has quickly grown into a leading company and been recognized as one of Canada’s Fastest Growing startups. What are some of the strategies you used that contribute towards the growth and success of the company?
Perhaps one of the best strategies I implemented from the very beginning is selling the product before building it. Even when we started, Sampler had sold a first version of its technology before a single line of code was written. I had convinced a brand to buy with just a few Photoshop mock-ups of what the experience might look like. To this day, we still leverage our customers’ feedback to help prioritize our next area of focus. Secondly, I always say that my two most important customers are my team and my investors. When hiring, I always make sure to ask our potential teammates where they see their career in two, five, and ten years. I find it critical that both the company and the employee have a parallel path. Because Sampler is growing so quickly, I make sure to surround myself with people who are dedicated to growing at an equal pace. I’ve found that surrounding yourself with people who fit well within your company culture is one of the best ways to evolve and improve your business.
What sets Sampler apart from other similar organizations? What makes it different?
Sampler helps brands develop personalized & direct-to-consumer relationships with the consumers they sample to. We’re also heavily focused on quality over quantity so when brands come to us, they’re looking to build high-value relationships with the most valuable consumer. I find that sampling has traditionally been considered more of a tactic than a long-term strategy for quite a while, and we’re changing that.
When you initially founded Sampler, did you ever imagine it would grow to this level?
I think that to start anything, you need to believe it can become really big. With Sampler, I knew that the opportunity was huge, but I never realized how big of an impact we could have in the industry. When we got into the space five years ago, there really weren’t many players in the game and though our team was small, it was able to play a major role in educating marketers on the power of product sampling in the digital world.
The world’s biggest global beauty manufacturer, L’Oréal has partnered up with Sampler and you’ve become the face of the 2018 L’Oréal Innovation Strategy. What does this mean to you?
I’ve always been such a huge fan of L’Oréal. Earlier in my career, I actually dreamt of working there as a brand manager. But aside from it being a childhood dream, working with L’Oréal has been such a pleasure because of how committed they are to innovation. It’s one thing for a brand to say they are investing in innovation but the reality is that most brands do a good job bringing in solutions but not in scaling them. L’Oréal really stands apart on that end, and we’ve quickly been able to work with 11 brands in 5 countries under their umbrella. This wouldn’t be possible without clear direction from management to test and learn and for a small company; this level of momentum is so incredibly valuable. Having your clients get this involved in the success of your business and having the opportunity to collaborate and innovate together is very rewarding.
Sampler has worked with some of the top CPG brands and reached over 50 million consumers globally in 24 different countries. What would you say has been the most challenging part of that?
Staying focused. With this many customers from so many categories and different locations, it’s easy to get sidetracked and see every shiny object as a big opportunity. It’s challenging but crucial to understand that we simply can’t do everything and challenge ourselves to be selective about which opportunities to invest in now versus the ones we should pass on for future.
The company is known for its diverse and inclusive workplace. Not only are 59% of your employees women, but 54% are also a visible minority. Why are you putting such an importance of diversity? Do you believe it’s crucial to the success of the business?
I am personally very passionate about encouraging more diversity in technology and entrepreneurship and I hope that in my small way I can move the needle there. I think it’s extremely important because the best ideas come from personal experiences and healthy debate. If I surrounded myself with people that looked like me and had similar personal and professional backgrounds than me, I would have likely built something very different. Providing an inclusive workplace for my team has been a beautiful thing to be a part of and it’s become a way of doing my part in the world.
As the founder and CEO of Sampler, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
The challenges change every day so it’s hard to point one out specifically but I’d sum it up as “keeping my stamina”. My husband always reminds me, “Marie, it’s a marathon not a sprint” and he’s so right. It can be very easy to cram ten meetings in a day or to take on more than you can chew, but proper time management is vital. Finding the perfect balance between spending time with the team, meeting with clients, thinking time, and personal down time is incredibly important and though it’s easier said than done; it’s something I’m constantly aiming for.
On a final note, did you always know you wanted to become an entrepreneur? Was it your dream growing up to start a business?
It wasn’t always a dream of mine but looking back it was definitely something I was destined to be. I come from the hardest working family you’ll ever meet. My grandmother and grandfather were entrepreneurs, they owned several businesses in their life and to this day my grandma asks me how she might sell her knitting projects on Etsy. I myself showed a lot of entrepreneurial traits growing up. I was always the one organizing the school social activities, I was the president of my university sorority, and I was always the annoying person challenging the teacher in school. But, I didn’t really know anything about technology or what it took to become a successful entrepreneur. This is exactly why I think it’s important for us to actively inspire others to follow suit even when they might not initially think of themselves as entrepreneurs.