Amanda Goetz has spent her career alternating between two roles: founder and marketer.
If you follow her on Twitter, as most of #MarketingTwitter does, you know that she’s in founder mode right now.
A casual Twitter follower might not realize it, but this isn’t Goetz’s first rodeo. She founded her first company back in 2011: a wedding technology company called Availendar.
“It was very hard,” she told MarketerHire. “I was a first-time female founder.”
She was also trying to build a “very technical solution” without a technical background, in a world before no-code. Though she got into a startup accelerator program, she ultimately couldn’t raise capital.
Instead, she shifted from a founder role to a marketing one. Goetz took a full-time job at digital wedding marketplace The Knot, where she spent nearly six years and rose to VP of marketing.
Now, she’s back in the founder lane. In 2020, she left The Knot to launch House of Wise.
This is different from her first shot at founderhood. For one, her flagship product isn’t technical — it’s organic.
For another, Goetz, a self-described “non-traditional founder,” has drawn on her marketing background to craft an interesting go-to-market playbook for her product — one that leans into what MLMs get right.
MarketerHire spoke with Goetz about how she decided to return to the founder role, “playing the CAC game,” and what it means to be a Wise Woman.
Ideation and microdosing
When did you first get the idea for House of Wise?
I was managing a large marketing team at The Knot, a brand I truly, truly cared about. We had just gotten acquired, and I managed the integration of two brands under one roof. Really, I was at the height of my career, but I also found myself navigating a divorce with three kids under the age of four. I was at this point where you’re supposed to feel like everything's falling into place, and it was really falling apart.
I realized I was drinking more alcohol than I ever had in my life. I've never been a big social drinker, but I was drinking one or two glasses of wine at night to come down after the day. My anxiety was just at an all-time high. I was going to therapy twice a week, but that was not dealing with the physiological effects of the stress and anxiety.
"I had never touched cannabis in my life."
I was like, “I can't be a mom of three toddlers and touching cannabis.” I had never touched cannabis in my life. There was this massive stigma around it. But out of pure desperation, I turned to it and started microdosing THC. For people that have never done that, you're not stoned — you just allow your body to release the effects of stress and anxiety. It’s more of a body high. So during the day I was taking CBD, and it was helping me immensely. I thought, why isn’t this more prevalent? Alcohol makes me inebriated and has high sugar content and affects my sleep cycles, whereas cannabis doesn't do any of that.
I couldn't stop thinking about how many women need this in their lives. I just finally got to the point where I had enough proof points in my conversations with women. I was like, someone needs to do this, and I think it has to be me.
What were those early, pre-launch building stages like for you?
It wasn't like I woke up one day and quit my job to build this company. I have three kids. I'm a single mom. I have a lower risk tolerance. But I started to research who has the best hemp farming technologies, and then I found a farm, and I just clicked with the farmer and the team. That was a six-month process. Then I found a team to do product development. I got CBD samples made and tried them. There was a whole year where I just gave samples to friends and asked them how it made them feel. They were like, “This is the best night's sleep I've ever had.”
It was low and slow. I was building on nights and weekends while I still have my day job at The Knot. Then there was this amazing serendipitous thing that happened: I met Dave Fano, the founder of Teal. He wanted me to become an advisor, and I said, “What if I came on as a 50% CMO?” So I’m CMO of a startup right now; I'm building their brand strategy and helping them think through their positioning in the market. But then two and a half days a week, I focus a hundred percent on House of Wise.
Building a trustworthy CBD brand
Why did you decide to focus on a female audience?
We are under the most stress out of anyone. This demographic that I'm talking to, women ages 25 to 45, are dealing with some of the hardest decisions and life transitions and identity changes that anyone ever has to face: deciding if you're going to become a mom, deciding what to do with your career and the guilt that comes with whatever choice you make. I’m also building a brand that I can speak to, because I’m my demo.
What were women telling you about CBD that suggested a need for House of Wise?
I kept hearing that there's a lot of information out there about cannabis, and they didn't know who to trust, which makes sense. The cannabis industry is pretty male-dominated, and there’s not a lot of product development. There’s a lot of white-labeling, where someone is just slapping their label on some oil that they're getting in bulk.
I wanted to build a company that women could trust. We did a one-year product development process. I select every flavor, every active ingredient. I hope women can also trust House of Wise because they actually see the person behind it. I’m there, taking the product every day, talking to them about what I feel. It's not just a brand shooting them Instagram ads.
"I wanted to build a company that women could trust."
It sounds like you started with market research, then moved into product development — which makes a lot of sense, especially given your marketing background. Do you think a marketing skill set sets you apart as a founder?
It depends on your strategy. Mine is a brand-first strategy, so understanding human psychology and consumer psychology and behavior is critical. You can have the best product, but if you're targeting the wrong end consumer or you're targeting them with the wrong value proposition or the wrong sentiment, it's not going to land.
It’s a little chicken and the egg, though. You can have products without marketing that don’t take off. Marketing without a great product might not take off either. There are a lot of brands out there that have shitty product and they cast a wide net and they make a big splash, but then their retention is horrible. So they play the CAC game, and just keep putting performance dollars in.
I haven't spent a dollar in performance marketing yet, because I care so much about the women that are along this journey. They’re trying this for the first time. I'm emailing with them. I'm doing Slack messages with them. As a marketer, you care about consumers more than any other functional role. I care about what they’re saying, how they feel, what other products are in their consideration, what their daily routines are. That's just how you think as a marketer. When you're building a product like I am, that is something that is going to be a part of their daily routine — my marketing background definitely helps me.
"As a marketer, you care about consumers more than any other functional role."
You mentioned that you haven’t spent any money on performance marketing — does that have anything to do with all the ways paid channels regulate cannabis marketing?
I'd be lying if I said it's not a factor, but I am also building this company for women and I want to know those women. We will probably do some performance marketing eventually, just for brand recognition and to widen the top of our funnel. But right now, I'm acutely focused on getting that feedback from our earliest adopters and building a community.
You have a really interesting go-to-market plan — you mentioned on Twitter that you’re trying to almost disrupt or reinvent MLMs. How did you first get interested in MLMs?
I’m from a rural town outside of Peoria, Illinois, and MLMs are big there. That is part of the reason I wanted to think about MLMs in a bigger way. I spent six months before even starting House of Wise just interviewing friends from my hometown, from my college — I went to University of Illinois — and just understanding MLM mechanics, because obviously there’s a value prop that’s working.
What did you learn about that core appeal?
My friends would say by and large that they were excited to make money that their husbands couldn't touch — their own money that was just theirs, that they could spend guilt-free. That suggests to me that we need a conversation about money in heteronormative relationships. Women want to make their own money and they want to feel in control of it. They want to feel a part of a brand, too, and feel that sense of identity from something larger. Those were the main pros.
What are the main downsides?
The cons are high upfront costs. They have to buy a lot of a product, maybe a lash-growing thing, and it’s sitting in their garage. They have like 500 tubes of this lash-growing serum. So when they talk about it, it’s not authentic — they have to sell it, and it shows. Do you really love your lash serum so much that much that you’re posting about it all the time?
"When they talk about it, it's not authentic — they have to sell it, and it shows."
Another con: It's called a pyramid scheme for a reason, right? There’s someone at the top making a lot of money, and then they recruit all these people to sell for them. If you're at the bottom of that pyramid, you get a smaller percentage of revenues.
How are you updating the MLM model at House of Wise?
We're only nine weeks old, so we’re still figuring things out, but we’re building a community of Wise Women. They’re learning about how to take control of your sleep, sex, stress and wealth, and we are creating content around each of those verticals. We have a Slack channel, and we do Zoom hangouts where they get updates on the company. It's not just built on “Sell our product! Sell our product!”
I know basically every Wise Woman by name, and I’m trying to lean into their talents. Some of them are really good at content creation, and then some of them are really good at selling — they love our product and they have no problem talking into their camera and doing that whole thing. You can make a lot of money selling House of Wise, and anyone can try it.
House of Wise doesn't have the levels of a pyramid scheme, though. Everyone's making a flat commission through an affiliate link, and you don't have to recruit your friends to be a part of a team.
How have you approached building that community of Wise Women so far? Do you recruit?
In summer of 2020, when I announced that I was starting to build something, I did a call for people. I was like, “Hey, if anybody wants to hear what I’m building and stay in the loop, I’d love to get feedback and ask questions.” Over 500 women reached out.
I treated them like a mix of early investors and an informal focus group. From July through December, I sent them monthly updates, asking them questions, telling them what I was doing, showing them the early packaging and getting them pumped for the launch.
These women had been a part of the journey — so on launch day, they were excited to tell the world about House of Wise because they felt bought into it. They’re the ones that are now in the Slack channel. Some of them think of themselves as spectators with a front row seat, watching this company grow; some of them feel like a part of the team. Everybody’s different.
That’s so interesting! It sounds like the logical extreme of the microinfluencer trend, but it also sounds sort of unusual. Why do you think treating early adopters as microinfluencers or affiliates isn’t the norm yet?
I think this strategy takes patience and it takes education. Not every Wise Woman knows how to create content. We are being patient with the women and educating them on how to create a TikTok or Instagram Reel step by step. If you want sustainable growth, you have to put in the effort and build the community. It takes time, just like building a friendship. Many brands just want to plug and play, though, and work with people who have a built-in audience and know how to create content. For VC-backed companies with growth targets to hit, a strategy like mine might not work. But I am lucky. I own most of my company. I have the luxury right now to build this in a way that I want to build it.
Fundraising and beyond
What’s next for House of Wise?
I'm fundraising right now, raising a seed round. Once I close this round, I'll move into a straight advisor role for Teal, and I’ll be able to pay myself at House of Wise. This definitely was not a 27-year-old male founder story, though, where I just quit my job because I could live off of ramen noodles. I mean, I can, but I don't want my kids to. I think that it's important for people to understand that there are different routes to becoming a VC-backed startup.
"This was definitely not a 27-year-old male founder story."
How has fundraising been going so far? Do you think your marketing background comes in handy there?
Fundraising is its own beast. It’s a full-time job, because it's a numbers game. You have to talk to a lot of people. I think first and foremost, it's about networking and connecting. I would say the baseline skill is just putting yourself out there and asking for the connection or the intro.
But most early-stage investors don’t invest based on the current state of the business. There are so many things you can’t do without funding, like test channels and drip campaigns and abandoned cart stuff. They're betting on the founder and the opportunity. So storytelling is a huge part of that, and as a marketer, I do think that you have a leg up, because you understand how to tell a story that lands with the target audience — which in this case is investors.
Still, there are a lot of factors playing against me. Less than 3% of VC funding goes to women-led startups, and I’m in an even less-represented demo because I'm a mom and I'm 35. But it helps me stand out, and I think VCs are now more aware that they have to give people a chance.
Do you have any advice for marketers thinking of starting their own businesses?
My biggest piece of advice, honestly, is to think about a company like a marriage. If you are not in love with the idea and you don’t wake up every day passionate about it, it makes it harder to deal with the extreme highs and lows of being an entrepreneur. You have to be so passionate about solving a particular problem that you can't imagine doing anything else. Some people fall in love with the idea of being an entrepreneur in general, but you really need to love your specific company and solution.
This conversation has been condensed and edited.