How a founder grew his breath-mint company into thousands of markets globally using TikTok and online ads
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Products brand themselves as mouth-watering all the time, but it’s often just a metaphor. For Flintts Mints, it’s a reality.
Using the spilanthes flower of the daisy family, the company is sparking salivary glands while marketing to a nondescript, vague target audience, catering to cannabis consumers, sex advocates, and those with medical needs. The approach appears to be paying off.
From the Department of Defense to spilanthes
Flintts Mints founder Russell Adler’s path to Flintts began at the Department of Defense’s US Army Corps of Engineers in 2007, where the Trinity College-Hartford physics major worked as a physics researcher.
“I always thought I’d be a career scientist,” Adler told Insider.
That sentiment changed a few years into his career, when it focused more on writing and publishing theses. He started dabbling in food science. The first endeavor, an Eggs Benedict from scratch, included growing grain and raising his own animals. He shared animals with friends, one of whom gave him some spilanthes seeds.
A fresh mouth and tingling sensation piqued Adler’s attention.
“I put one in my mouth, and honestly, it was like everything kind of made sense for a second,” Adler said.
The experience ignited him. He left the DoD in 2011, taking on various jobs while he conducted research and development. He tested various form factors, from infused gum to a tongue applicator, but none captured the intended essence. Fortunes began to change when he connected with a distributor able to supply him with spilanthes extract.
After investing most of his life savings, Adler discovered a bite-sized mint formulation.
In late 2017, he linked up with fine artist and designer Kiji McCafferty through a mutual connection. “We worked on the branding perpetually until we launched in 2019, and then perpetually since then,” Adler said.
The duo developed a design based around the radial symmetry of a mandala, a geometric symbol used to represent a spiritual path or journey. The mandala’s shape is found in the spilanthes flower as well. “That was really the glue that stuck all these design concepts together,” Adler said.
Next came the realization that pufferfish also create mandalas when attempting to attract a mate — leading to the creation of the company’s bright yellow, smiling mascot, Fugu.
When completed, the brand began to stand out on sales shelves and conference floors. McCafferty’s work helped land the company’s third partner. Showcasing at their first industry event, the 2019 Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition in New York City, Flintts’ colorful booth attracted scores of attendees, including Wesley Lau.
After leaving his hedge fund position in 2016, Lau created a mobile emergency and event communication app, Warnable. But by 2019, he was looking to expand into cannabis. He attended industry events, including CWCBE, where he was captivated by the Flintts booth.
“The branding, I saw so much potential with it,” he told Insider. Lau would eventually become the third partner. From there, the three embarked on a dispensary-focused sales approach.
Pandemic forces pivots and alters projections
When the pandemic began, Flintts’ leaders found themselves with their backs against the wall. However, the moment provided a beneficial pivot. The team was unsure of its next steps.
“I’m generally optimistic, but I didn’t have any answers,” Lau recalled.
Adler suggested turning to social media and direct-to-sales, a revenue stream the company earned hundreds of dollars per day from, at most, before the pandemic. Soon, they launched the company’s high-quality, sleekly designed, trippy targeted ads. Still, Flintts saw its ad spend soar while revenues remained stagnant.
But “every day, it got a little better,” Adler said.
The ads began to lead to sales and new fan conversions. Another boost came from the company’s ambiguous fan base. In February 2020, sexual wellness writer Zachary Zane wrote an article for Men’s Health saying Flintts helped improve his oral sex experiences.
“It was really like one of the sparks that kind of set our world on fire,” said Adler, noting that Flintts has never paid for a public relations campaign.
Another boost came via TikTok and fan-reaction videos, but the trio didn’t know TikTok was a hotbed at first. Adler said: “We had hired a social person who was much younger than us, and thankfully she knew what was good.”
Today, Flintts operates out of its Greenpoint, Brooklyn facility. The company ships to hundreds of countries and more than 2,500 international cities.
The group owns the entire venture, so they don’t see any plans to bring in outside revenue. Adler also intends to keep production entirely in the United States despite the company’s growth.
“There are things more important than money, and to me, American production is one of those things,” Adler said.
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