TNL Take: On this exact date 2 years ago, I wrote about Soylent and the opportunity for esports and the gaming market.
The TL/DR: I loved the idea of portable meal replacement in a bottle for a single guy who can’t boil water and I bought a ton.
However, there were two main issues with Soylent:
Taste: I tested the Original flavor before they released the new Cacao and Strawberry flavors but here’s what I said:
If Jon Oliver were to describe it, I would imagine he would say “Imagine a goat threw up. Then a frat boy ate the goat’s vomit. Then the frat boy threw up. And you drank his vomit. That’s what it tastes like.”
Nutrition: When you’re trying to provide meal replacement in a drink or nutrition bar, you need to read the fine print like everything in life. The majority of them are loaded with fat and sugar (stop those “protein bars” kids). Here’s Soylent’s nutrition label:
You may get your 20g of protein but you’re consuming a ton of fat, sugar and sodium in the process.
Let me introduce you to CTRL and my conversation with the founders Sundance DiGiovanni and Skyler Johnson.
What hole did you see in the market and why did you create CTRL?
CTRL was an idea we had through our personal experiences with weight gain and loss due to simply not being able to have enough time to make the proper meals to keep us healthy and functioning optimally while living the professional gamer lifestyle.
Professionals can be practicing up to 10 hours a day, streamers can host average streams of the same length or longer and honestly, everyone in 2019 seems to be creating in some capacity, while not finding the time to eat, let alone eat what is good for them. This is a premium product with a premium experience attached.
Both of your backgrounds are in esports/gaming, is that the reason that you’re targeting CTRL to this audience first?
CTRL is much bigger than just the gaming community as its a lifestyle shift of sorts, however, the gaming/esports audience is home and we have a need that should be addressed. Not by changing the way people eat but helping assist in at least one meal a day that can fit into a busy lifestyle. CTRL is catered to real life, and that means everyone from creators of all sorts, professionals, casual gamers, gym goers and anyone that wants to save time, money and be a little more health conscious with what they’re eating on the daily. If you look at the bottom of our bags you can see how important it is that we addressed everyone.
CTRL can obviously grow bigger than just the esports/gaming space. Do you see the opportunity within general health, nutrition, fitness as the much larger market?
This will be bigger than just gaming and esports and the goal for this product is to take over every market we can on honest principles for our brand. Solid nutrition profile, great bottom of the bowl taste and a great experience overall. From packaging to website to interactions, its important to us that people really feel apart of this movement and understand we got your back.
A lot of the “meal replacement drinks” provide you the protein, but are loaded with unhealthy amounts of other items. What’s the nutritional makeup of CTRL and how did you create this?
We made sure to reach out to nutritionists who knew exactly what we wanted, something that can contain healthy fats, protein and carbs too make up a solid meal. This is not just a protein shake or something for the gym. We made sure to not skip a beat on the ingredients by adding in things that some might not care about but others will notice and respect for not skimping on the product. We added 5g of fiber, prebiotic to promote healthy gut bacteria, 23 grams of protein as a strong amount for a full serving or even a strong amount if you wanted to just have a half a serving as a snack. 22+ vitamins and minerals, Digestive enzymes to promote healthy digestion, over 5g of BCAA’s per serving and MCT’s to support appetite control. We felt like we were missing something and thats when the real cereal pieces come into play. Something to be said about nostalgia and nothing gets more nostalgic than real cereal pieces in the bottom of the bowl.
How important was the overall design - from the website, shaker, and packaging - important to you for CTRL?
The experience was definitely up there for us, coming from the creative side of this community after my professional gamer stint, it was important to have the aesthetics of the brand feel new but fun. We went through multiple different rounds of the packaging until we hit just right. We have a great team that I have been with for years now and the experience was challenging at times but always rewarding. We want the creatives in the community to feel equally apart of this brand, we have so much talent that is born inside of the community and we want to have a brand where we can push people to explore new creative routes with and inspire other brands to not cut the corners and to focus on the details. When you receive a custom box, tissue paper, tape, stickers, shakers, cards etc… its more than just a purchase, its the CTRL Experience. People will know what means a lot to you and for us, its everything about the brand.
What were the factors to come up with the various flavors for CTRL?
I have always been one to explore flavor trends and I feel I have been very successful at it from my time working at an unnamed energy drink company. You want to have a solid 3 on your launch, these 3 will act as our launch pillars. We have some others completed and others that we will experiment with but we don’t want to just push out flavors for the sake of scaling. We want each flavor to have a purpose and with that said, sit tight and wait for what is next.
What other members of CTRL do you have planned to roll out?
We have a solid team we are building out and I think everyone in this community will see a proper fit for them. Expect to see a lot of details on that in the coming weeks!
Is it weird to be business partners with Sundance after starting your career playing under his company at MLG?
Not weird, but amazing. I can’t put into words what its like to have a business partner like him. We truly explore all the solutions to a lot of different problems even if we don’t always like the outcome. He trusted a vision I had and not only said “let’s do it” but owned that vision as his own and was side by side on not only the formulation and taste but the overall creative and experience. This is one of many things we will do together but this one will always be special because its the first.
(Disclaimer: Sundance was my former manager at MLG. Regardless, he not only helped introduce esports to the community but is one of the nicest person and father I’ve ever met).
What has been the best part of the sold out reaction thus far?
Hands down seeing everyone I have met or interacted with over the years reaching out to me or showing how many bags they purchased via the checkout pictures. It goes to show how much support we really have and I can’t even begin to tell you how thankful I am. We launched officially on Friday and to be where we are at already doesn't seem real. I can’t wait for people to actually go through the unboxing experience and actually taste the product.
Where do you see CTRL in 5 years?
A global brand that stays true to the principles of why we started. I think our expansion efforts will really change the way people think. We have a vision that is built out and backed by strong creative and an amazing team. In short, I see CTRL really helping people and ideally help put a shift in the lifestyle choices we make daily.