tbh: Bigger than Business

At 15 years old, Stranger Things star, Noah Schnapp, partnered with UVS in an effort to bring tbh to the world.This week we sat down with Chief Executive Officer, Elena Guberman, of tbh – one of the fastest growing brands focusing on sustainable, better-for-you, nostalgic snacks. Our conversation focused on what it means for tbh to be mission first, how Elena thinks about portfolio expansion of the business, and what does Noah enrolling at UPenn mean for his involvement in the business.

A Cold DM. In November of 2019, Elena Guberman exited Rodeo CPG, an emerging brand consultancy she helped start and went full time with Rubbish, a technology startup she founded that worked to create cleaner and healthier communities. At this point in her career, Elena was convinced working as a tech founder would be the next chapter of her career. Up until this point, she had spent her entire career manufacturing, consulting and building consumer brands. Sustainability was something Elena took heavy interest in and becoming a tech founder provided her an opportunity to grow her skillset beyond the ones she had already sharpened during her tenure in the CPG industry. She led Rubbish as co-founder for the better part of 3.5 years before one day getting a cold DM from Ba Minuzzi that would bring her back to familiar waters.

Ba Minuzzi and Umana Venture Studio. Ba Minuzzi is a well known and all around respected venture investor in the world of consumer. She is the CEO of UMANA, a notable venture fund, a partner with Adrian Grenier in DuContra Ventures, and board member to some of the world’s fastest growing consumer tech and brand startups. In 2020, Ba founded Umana Venture Studio to create a new generation of brands that are built around a strong purpose and are driven by their mission to make a positive impact in our world.A few short months after announcing the launch of UVS, Ba and her team were approached by then, 15 year old, Noah Schnapp with the proposal to partner on a new product that would be made with clean, sustainable ingredients, and was a healthier alternative to the leading alternative in the market. It took over 16 months of ideating, branding and formulating to bring tbh hazelnut spread into the market. Now the company needed an experienced CEO to guide the ship.

A New CEO. Elena checked a lot of boxes – none more important than the years of CPG experience under her belt, being responsible for successful launch of number of CPG products, a strong foundational understanding of CPG supply chains and having a outspoken interest in the growing sustainability movements. Elena was hesitant to jump back into a consumer brand at first. If she was going to make a leap make into CPG, it had to be for a company she believed deeply in.At the top of her criteria was product quality and quality ingredients. Tbh passed with flying colors. Elena points out, “largely the team had recreated a product that tasted exactly like the leading competitor, but was sourced with cleaner, better for you ingredients.” The next criteria was team. Elena shares, “By the time, the team had reached out to me, there was a brand in place that made sense for the product, the formulation was perfect, and it was talent-led by someone who deeply was passionate about the product and what the company could be.” She met with Ba, Noah and the tbh team in early 2021. After a few conversations, in August 2021, they tapped her as CEO.

On Nostalgia. Fast forward to today, Elena has scaled her team and tbh has recently crossed 150k instagram since launching in November. As Elena thinks about what’s next for the business, she shared “We think about expanding our product portfolio with the question of what nostalgic product should be reimagined.”Elena’s unique supply chain background enable her to think about how to expand the company’s portfolio in the most efficient way. She explains, “We already have amazing manufacturing partnerships set up. So the question for us in the near term is how we can innovative for our customers through these partnerships.” She shared the example, “We are going to be launching a single serve in the next 6 months so hikers can take us on their hiking or camping trips.”What’s unique about operating a business reimagining nostalgic products is that nostalgia can be bigger than just the reimagined product. Elena is also placing a strategic bet on empowering customers to experience it in different moments, not just at their kitchen counter. The team believes owning different types of customer experiences is what will help continue driving the business forward.When describing the unique advantages of the nostalgia, Elena explained, “Most brands have one-two customers bases they cater to. Tbh is catering to cross generational functions. Kids, fans, moms, grandparents.” Simply put, the demand for nostalgic snacks, stretches far beyond any specific age or race demographic, providing tbh an opportunity to continue serving that growing demand.

Spreading Beyond Product. Tbh is a mission first and foremost company. There are two things that are important to tbh as a business outside of delivering quality products:

  • Sustainability
  • Empowering Gen-Z

When asked to describe how sustainability plays a role in decision making, Elena explained, “Remaining mission first and foremost is important to Noah and the company. Sometimes it becomes difficult to marry the desire to be fully sustainable and manufacture [products] that need to sit on retail shelves. We want to give our customer a hazelnut spread and do so as sustainably as possible – that’s why we decided to use 100% recyclable for the jar and lid. What I knew [from experience] is that glass can often cause more non-sustainable problems in the supply chain with machine breakage and damage.”The mission of doing well for the environment is very connected with the intent of doing well for people. As a reminder, Noah was only 15 years old when the idea for tbh launched into market. Of his 57M audience members across social media, Gen-Z is amongst the most loyal. Elena shares, “It was important to Noah to empower other young people to create more good. That’s why tbh is working on a foundation concept to help bring others ideas to life.”While Elena could not share any further details, she did note that it would be centered around the goal of enabling a generation of passionate people to bring their voice to life regardless of their immediate political or spending power.

What’s Ahead. According to Elena, Noah will be enrolling in UPenn’s upcoming fall 2022 undergraduate class to focus entrepreneurship. Noah will continue to be involved in the operations of the business as he attends his classes, but has clearly signaled that he wants to build TBH into something larger than a snacking company. We’re interested to watch him and Elena continue to build out their operations for a company that leads the way in doing more good.