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Making Your Products Into a Story with Alexa Randolph

A conversation with Alexa Randolph | Audio Interview | Video Interview 

We have Alexa Randolph with us today, and we are going to be talking about making your products into a story. So I'm going to let Alexa talk about her business in just a second. But she actually has a very unique story herself and that she actually went through a very bad accident a number of years after graduating college and has actually evolved that into a business and a podcast where she helps other people deal with their own grief, their own trauma. And then she actually has a custom design business where she infuses a story into every product she creates. And that actually has a really important bridge into branding, because in the current environment, having a sterile brand really doesn't cut it anymore. You really need to bring a soul and a story into the brand that you take out to the public. Alexa, please introduce yourself. And by all means, don't let me talk too much. 

You're totally good. Thank you so much for having me. I'm Alexa Randolph. So like he said, I was in a car accident a couple of months after I graduated, and my whole life changed. I had a mild traumatic brain injury, and it turned into chronic pain. And I had doctors telling me that it was all in my head that I was making this up. And that's kind of when it hit me is that they do this all the time to people that they can't fix or if they don't know. And I wanted to become an advocate for people because you're your own expert more than anybody. And so I ended up in 2019 making my first podcast, which is called with level access. And I was telling stories of people who have mental health issues or have suffered from chronic pain, chronic illness. And as changed with cold. And I ended up interviewing a lot more people, like reality stars and people that have mental health and all these things. And I ended up starting my own business in the sense of my design business. And I changed my podcast to Hey, Alexa. So not only do I talk about mental health and chronic pain, but I talk about business. I talk about podcasting. I talk about all these different topics because it fits so many people. And recently, the summer started my design business, which is I do custom glassware. So like wine glass shot glasses. I've got beer glasses, champagne tumblers. I also do T-shirts. I do makeup bags. Well, travel bags. They're not makeup bags. And then these light up bottles, so they're like wine bottles. We put lights in it lights up. And I keep adding more and more products. But what I wanted to do is I originally started with just making some designs, like for people can buy, but that wasn't really going anywhere. And I realized it's all in custom. Yeah. When you go to a store and you see a love glass. Okay. It's cool. I like that. Like, it's pretty, but it doesn't really mean anything. I want my products to mean something. I want them to feel special when you buy them. Like, I've made some for weddings. I've done, like riding room one, where it's their name. So it's like, name one, name two, and the date, and then it's opposite. So for the girl, it's her name's on top, and then it's just something special that you're going to remember for the rest of their lives.

What I was thinking is that I think that the type of business that you're creating is sort of in contrast to the, what I call the business school business. Right. Because, like, the type of business that everybody kind of learns about or is trying to create out of business school is something that either is either SaaS software based because that's what's cool right now, or something that's product based and has ridiculously high margins that you can scale up to an infinite amount of volume because that's how you gain a whole bunch of money from the financial markets so you can be fantastically wealthy. But the thing I keep wondering is I'm like, okay, is that model broken? Is that the wrong way to be looking at the world? Because basically what's essentially happened is think about, like, the VC market. The VC market has flooded SAS companies to where you have hundreds and thousands of companies that are all trying to do essentially the same software as a service types of things. You'll have about five or six, like big CRM players, and you have thousands and thousands of niche players. Is all this really net value added? And I don't know what the answer is, but I really like hearing about businesses that people really put their soul into, because something like what you're doing is almost intentionally not scalable. This is not something that you can scale up to a billion dollars in revenue. And that's by design, because you lose the ability to be custom and have a story behind what you're doing if you scale it and repeat it too much. And part of me kind of wonders, I kind of feel like that's the future of where a lot of businesses headed is intentionally non scalable.

Yeah, I've never been to business school. I was actually a communications major.

I do not consider that to be a detriment. 

No, I'm just saying I wouldn't know a lot of that. But I realized that people want to be heard. People want to be felt. And I think because of what I went through, that's why I'm able to do what I'm doing is because if I didn't, I would just think my doctors or whoever are experts and call it a day. And you don't realize how many voices are being shut out. They're afraid. So I want that's where I want to focus. I want people to feel heard and be individual. I don't want everybody to have the same glass from me. I want it to be custom. And I only do like, if I'm at parties and stuff where I do have, I go places, like for shows, I do a couple of each design because it should. And I allow customization, not at the fair, but they would come back. I would like send it out. But I want each thing to be different. I want each person is different. No two people are the same. So why should they have the same glass or the same shirt or whatever? And each thing is just something different. And it shows that each person is different and has a story. And I don't need a billion dollars. I just want to be able to do my business, pay my bills, have extra to go travel, to do what I want and to live the life I want. I don't need a big house. I don't need any of that. And I never really wanted that. So to me, I don't need the scaling business. 

Well, particularly because if you're talking about, say, the scaling business, the corollary to that would be the progressive career. You go into the corporation, you say start as an analyst, and then you move up to a senior analyst, you become a manager, then a director and then a VP, and you try to become a senior VP. But like conversation I was having with one of my friends lately, they were saying, yeah, everybody I know who's a VP is, like within a couple of years either quits or gets fired. 

I burnt out too.

Yeah, exactly. They either burn out and quit or at some point the company had earnings well, and they'll have to reduce headcount and get fired. And so I think one of the things about the type of business that you're building is that you decide when you're done once you have it built up to where it's sustainable, to where you have an established customer base or you have an established marketing campaign where when you need to go out and build customers, you know exactly how much marketing you have to put in at that point. Now you can have a very sustainable lifestyle business and you decide when you're finished with it, there's nobody else who controls it. For me, I think that's actually one of the things that's appealing to a lot of people who are moving into going business for themselves. As I'm fond of saying, everybody who's involved in business either is an entrepreneur or will be because the overwhelming majority of people, even if you're a corporate career, it will end before your time of economic productivity is over. And so you may decide that you have amassed enough financial resources where you want to retire. Some people do that. To me, I think the notion of retirement is nonsense. I have no notion to stop being economically productive ever. I may change the pace at which I do it, I may change the manner in which I do it. But to me, the idea of inactivity as a goal is nonsense. That is just a one way ticket to having your mind atrophy. And I don't want to say become a vegetable, but basically to just sort of degrade and decay mentally. At least you that's my observation. I don't want to push my thoughts on to you. 

No, I mean, you're right, though, because there are days that I don't feel good. Let's say my pain is acting up and I'm not working. I hate it if I just can't work. Like it's just I'm in pain. Whatever it is, I hate it. It's like the worst feeling because I feel like I need to do something and I don't want to just sit around watching TV, whatever. If I could get paid to sit around and read all day, okay, I could do that because at least my brain is doing something. But no, I don't like to sit around doing nothing or I don't like going. I even hate when I have appointments during the day because I'd rather be working and getting something closer to being done because I'm still in the beginning stages. I'm still in that process of figuring out what I want to do, how I want to do it. So I need all my time to be on the business because it's still not where it needs to be. It's getting there slowly, surely. So it's like if I'm not working, it kills me. 

Yeah, exactly. And the thing is, in some way, shape or form, if you are in business, you are always in the beginning stages of something. Even if and when you get to the point where you're at a sustainable revenue level, you went into business because you're the type of person who wants to be consistently improving things. You are very, by definition, not the kind of person who will be perfectly happy doing the exact same thing over and over again every day. So what that means is that in some way, shape or form, you will be in a consistent state of trying to get something from point A to point B without necessarily knowing how to do it. That's how it works. 

Yes. And I also don't want to be in a business where it grows so much that I have to have all these people working for me and then I have to do the higher end stuff. I want to be on the ground floor doing the creative stuff. That's like what I like. I don't like all that I could hire eventually. I would like to hire, marketing maybe, or social media that I can do my creative stuff, coming up with ideas, putting stuff on my website, making it for people. That's what I like. We're like emailing people to get more people involved or whatever things like that. I don't like the higher end. So if I ever have to hire people, it's not for that. 

I got you. Well, and I'd like to talk a little bit just about your story coming through mental health, because there was one of the things where you said you were talking about mental health issues. And one of the things that I don't know that I can say it's a strong belief or just an observation is that I feel like everybody has some degree of mental health issues. Some people it's less and more severe, and other people are better or worse at hiding it. It's like I say to my daughter, I'm like, everybody has crazy. Some people have it on the inside and some people have it on the outside. 

I love that. No, but it's true. Everyone's gone through anxiety at some point, whether they want to admit it or they don't, or a little depression or sadness, whatever it might be. Everyone's gone through it, had it or will have it. It's nothing you can hide from, but they just might not want to come out with it. There's been so many people that have shared their stories, that have, and I call it invisible illness. And a lot of other people have said that, too, because with mental health, chronic pain, pretty much a lot of illnesses are invisible. You can't actually see them, which makes it really hard because people don't understand what they can't see unless they've experienced it for themselves. I have a handicap sticker because I sometimes have trouble walking because of my pain. They're good. People try to stare at me because why is she parking? She's a young girl. She's healthy. She's fine. But they don't know. And something I learned, too, is I've always been an empathetic person, but I think I'm more empathetic now because there are days, let's say you have a waitress. And what if they're not even not being the nicest? 

Well, I was going to say, although actually now you have to say, yes, it's server, not waitress, because waitress is genderizing. 

Oh, sorry. Servers. Thank you. 

I should say that. Yeah. When I was in College, I was a server. So before my first grown up job, I had 15 different Joe jobs, one of which was being a server.

So hard, everything always changing. I know. I don't want to be cancelled. 

Well, I guess that's the thing. Does it harm anyone if you say waitress? No, of course. But I guess one of the things that I'd become attuned to, too. Part of me is like, oh, people just get over it. But I'm like, okay, well, genderizing is a thing. And of course I think you don't want to cancel people. That's just as silly as. Yeah, I think canceling people is just as dumb as rampant genderizing or rampant kind of categorizing. And I was being somewhat tongue in cheek, but I think that's the thing is you want people to be real and you want them to really be empathetic. Because there is a difference between erring ingenuously and, I don't know, having a spiteful, down looking view on other people, for lack of a better phrase. 

No, but it's true and I want to learn. So if I say something that it's not wrong but just not whatever, how are you going to learn? That's why the whole point of canceling doesn't make sense. I'm not holding people accountable by doing that. If anything, let them learn. Let them grow. And if they keep continuing to do the same thing, then okay, fine, cancel them. But at one time from the past, like all these celebrities and reality stars are beginning in trouble because of what they did ten years ago. But what if they're not? Are they doing it right now? No

Yeah, at least one of the things that I've observed is that a lot of this really is just basically Backfitting to someone's political agenda in the last couple of years. One of the things I've observed is that if you're left and center, then you consider the January 6 capital right to be like the worst assault on democracy that's ever happened. By the way, there was a whole bunch of people like after the George Floyd incident that could basically burn out cities, yet nobody cares about that. If you're right of center, it's the precise opposite. And for me, I'm like, hey, there's no time when property destruction is okay. 

It doesn't matter the situation. 

Yeah. There's no time when that's okay. I think I'm in the middle.

I'm more Liberal in sense. I like choice and all that, but I'm also not for burning things down or any of that. Common sense.

Yeah. Every time I take a political quiz, I come out libertarian. Every single time I've ever done it, I've always come out libertarian. 

It's so crazy. But back to what we were saying, though. Yeah, back on topic. Yeah, I like going off topic. It's done. 

My rule on tangents is I'm okay with any tangent is 30 seconds or less. And I'm good with up to a couple of minutes, as long as it's really interesting. So we haven't broke the rule yet, but now we can go back on topic.

Okay. Because I'll also forget, as it's in my head, I probably should say it. So for servers, like, let's say you have a server that's not nice to you, like, they're just kind of whatever. I'm learning to be like, it's not necessarily what if they're in pain that day and they had to come to work because they have to have money or whatever? I'm not saying it's okay. But you also have to give people grace because sometimes you don't know what's going on in their life. And I've learned because there are days like I'm crabbier if I'm a pain and I try not to be. I hold it in, but sometimes it slips out. And so I'm learning that to be more empathetic because you don't know what people are going through, they might look healthy. It doesn't mean they are. 

Yeah, exactly. Well, and bringing all this back to how people can kind of really put their soul into their brand and their marketing, because I love the idea of customized products and services. And at least kind of my observation would be that for the type of thing that you do, the infinite scaling is not what you do, is not the end goal for you. I would think the end goal is to really create and cultivate an appreciation for that customization that can justify higher prices and margins whereby you can make a very good living with a very low amount of volume. At least that, to me, is what that really comes down to. And I actually think that that's really the future of a lot of business enterprises, because with everybody trying to become infinitely scalable all at once, only a few people are going to succeed, and then all the ultra grants are going to end up going to end up bankrupt or going to end up acquired. And so I think there's going to be at some point in the future, there's going to be a lot of people kind of trying to figure out where do they go with their life and the business that they're trying to create. 

Right. And I think the other thing, too, is like, for me, if I can make someone happy, make someone feel good about something they're getting and make money on top of that, that's where I'm successful. 

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Let's see. So let's kind of back continue going on the conversation. So let's say that we have somebody who is interested in kind of going down the Hey Alexa path right. Toward like, say, a custom product, customer service type of business. What would you recommend as the how would you recommend people get moving or take the first step and move forward?

I definitely would say take your product, start small. I literally started with wine glasses. Maybe I think it was and maybe tumblers have some on hand just because it is easy. So you don't have to keep going. I'll go to local stores and stuff and get them. I don't even necessarily use online for a lot of stuff if I don't have to. I like to keep it local and shop local when I can. But yeah, just start small, start getting some ideas, play around, maybe even start just at Etsy if you want. Like if you're a customizable, eventually I made a website, too. So it's just if you want to spend money, because obviously for a website you have to spend some money. So it's up to you. But where Etsy? I think it's free, but yeah, just start small, start telling people about it, kind of come up and yeah, you're supposed to do your marketing first. But mine has changed over time. I'm finally at that place now where I can explain what I do and my marketing. But if you can come up with that first in your name and all that kind of fun stuff. But yeah, I'd say, like, I'm learning. I sometimes go a little too much, too far. And then I'm like, wait, I'm too overwhelmed. I have too many products. I have too many things. So I could scale it back a little until I'm in a good place and then I can keep adding.  And things have changed over time. I recently just changed it again to the sense of all custom. So I kept doing where I'd make designs and sell them. I'm in a store, local store that has all Michigan vendors. So I have design stores there. What I would do is when I would make them, I would take pictures and post them on my website and stuff so people can buy it also. But the thing was no one was buying it. They were going for the custom. So why am I going to keep adding this stuff to my website? Overwhelming me? Because it's easy, but it's tedious, so it takes forever and it's annoying. So I took it all off and what I ended up doing was just custom. So if I had a custom wine glass, I'd say, like customized design here and I would show in the pictures things I've done. So it's an example. It helps. So that way I can still put some of these pictures up, but I don't have to keep posting them all the time. They're at least getting to see what I'm doing. So if they want that specific design, they can otherwise. And it's also fun for social media to use those photos, but it's a lot cleaner now looking too. It's not so all over the place. So you just kind of keep trying new things and give yourself time and space because it's going to take a while. It's not going to be overnight. 

Got you. Well, I would also hope that you're really accentuating the fact that all of your base products are purchased locally as well, because I know that there are a lot of people, myself included, where that would be a very big selling point, which is that you are getting something, say, customized glassware from a local glazer to me is much more cool than if I get an engraving on something that was purchased from Ikea. 

Right? So, yeah. So it's just whatever you can do and just give yourself time. Give yourself, just get excited about it, because the more excited you are, the more and eventually you get more ideas. Like, I'm actually, again revamping a little bit where I'm actually working, starting to reach out to different businesses. They're just making promotional thing. So like, if they want their business on bags or maybe they do gifts for customers so they want their logo. I can do a lot now on everything so I'm reaching out to businesses. Podcast hosts. I just had one that they got a T shirt made with their logo and they loved it. It was like themselves, but who knows? Maybe people want to buy that so it's just I'm reaching out to just talk to different people and see where I can fit. 

Got you. That's awesome. Well, let us know where people can find you, either your website or your preferred social channels. 

Yeah, so my website is just custom designed by Alexa. Instagram is the same and so it's Facebook and I have my podcast called hey Alexa and that's just wherever you can find your podcast. It's also on my website.

On one of hundreds of thousands of podcast aggregators. 

Yeah, and they come out Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

Outstanding. Excellent. Well, Alex, I really appreciate having you on the show. 

Yeah. Thank you so much. I had a lot of fun. 

All right, everybody enjoy the rest of your day. 

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