Two former Procter & Gamble employees are returning to their brand-building roots with a new business venture and have landed millions in funding in recent weeks to get the idea off the ground.
Sean Lee and Andy Cipra officially launched Cincy Brands in February. The company will look to acquire and grow high-potential “better-for-you” consumer brands, fueled by its recent partnership with Wilbur Labs, a San Francisco-based startup studio.
Cincy Brands declined to disclose the investment amount, but Lee said it was in the “many millions.” Cincy Brands will use the funds make acquisitions, build out its core team and invest in technology and infrastructure.
The company could announce its first deal by the end of the month, he said.
“We’re off to the races,” Lee told me. “We think it’s a great time with the surge in e-commerce. More brands are connecting with consumers but with supply chains challenges, and rapid growth, a lot of founders are saying, ‘To take my brand to the next level, this may be a great time for me to go and look for a partner, somebody who can take my vision and what I’ve created to the next level.’”
Cincy Brands, in a way, brings both full circle. The company will look to acquire upstart consumer goods brands in the ”better-for-you” space, which includes categories like health care, beauty care, home care, pet and baby.
Lee and Cipra initially met at P&G on the Iams pet food team. Combined, their brand work included Old Spice, Crest Whitestrips, Vicks and P&G Venture’s flagship brand Zevo, among others.
Lee, a 2020 Courier “Forty Under 40” awardee, left Procter in 2018 for a VP position at Pure Romance before rejoining Cipra to help build out Amify’s local office in 2019. Cipra, in between P&G and Amify, worked as VP of marketing and interim chief marketing officer for Dish Network in Colorado as well as in executive roles for several tech startups.
The two left Amify, an Amazon-as-a-service startup, last year to build Cincy Brands.
“We’re brand builders at heart,” Cipra said. “When I started at P&G, it was all about TV commercials and Walmart distribution. Today, the tools you need to connect with consumers, to manufacture your products, to go to market — it has changed dramatically, and it’s incredibly exciting as I look toward the future. We want to position ourselves right in the middle of that.”
To find deals, Lee said Cincy Brands is scouring the U.S. and Canada. Ideal acquisition targets should have a “bit of a loyal following” with around $1 million to $10 million a year in revenue.
“Maybe they sell on Amazon and have one niche brick-and-mortar customer, like an Urban Outfitters,” he said. Still successful, but considerably smaller than a P&G or Unilever would consider.
“At (P&G) Ventures, when we talked about launching or acquiring brands, at a minimum they had to do $250M in revenue. There’s a ton of brands out there that are fantastic brands that may never do more than $100 million, but for a privately owned company that’s still fantastic.”
Cincy Brands promises a fast closing process and would inject capital and expertise needed to scale rapidly, hiring people with brand management, sales, e-commerce, product development and supply chain expertise — essentially doubling or triple the company’s bottom line.
Cincinnati is a ripe with the kind of talent needed to support the concept, Lee said.
“It’s not just the CPG (consumer packaged goods) talent that supports a Kroger or P&G, it’s the entire ecosystem: from contract manufacturers to operations people, to the design agencies that support it all. Some of the best talent in the world is here,” he said. “It’s as good, if not better, than what you see in New York or San Francisco or LA, where a lot of D2C (direct-to-consumer) venture-backed brands are being founded.
“We are building the consumer goods company of the future and doing it in Cincinnati. We believe the people are here to put that thesis to work,” Lee added.
Cincy Brands is currently headquartered at Over-the-Rhine’s Union Hall, but Lee said the team could move into new office space depending how its employee count grows.
Cincy Brands could add anywhere between five and 15 to its team as it finalizes acquisitions, he said. Wilbur Labs, as its capital and operational partner, will provide shared resources for finance/accounting, HR and marketing until the company can hire those functions.
Cincy Brands also plans to establish a warehousing presence. Cipra said the city’s location — within a two-days drive to most of the U.S. — is another strong suit.
“You can’t find a better place to start a company, standing on the back of the brand-building heritage of the region,” he said. “It’s something Sean and I have dreamed about from the first day we walked into P&G. To build a company around that idea and to bring amazing brands with amazing stories to life and bring them to more consumers is the kind of legacy we want to leave.”
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