"What Is The Rubyverse?" An Interview With Why Is This Interesting.

"What Is The Rubyverse?" An Interview With Why Is This Interesting.

We’re messing with our normal format a bit today. Frequently, in our “x of the day” section in WITI, we highlight interesting new brands. Ruby is one that has caught our mind recently. It was founded by our pal Noah Wunch (NW), and he’s been running hard at it, but also building something that feels very unique compared to a lot of the same same, factory farmed direct-to-consumer startups that seem to pop up. We took the time to chat with him to understand what he’s up to. Enjoy.

How did you build a brand so fast?

Talk about fast, just jumping right in. Let’s take a second. Let’s set a mood. Maybe put this track on. What’s that? You don’t like P.M. Dawn. We have nothing in common. Good day to you.

Oh man, I love that it might appear to the public as though Ruby’s brand happened quickly… it makes me feel like my neurosis and insanity is well-masked! While we were able to build Ruby the product in just about 12-months (from bench top to store shelves) the brand itself took closer to eighteen months. We had been working on the foundation some time before we could even begin with the operations side. We went through a few pretty dramatic iterations, mostly due to my being a f***head and thinking that Ruby was a Dover Street Market brand. I remember the first pass my designer - the brilliant Morey Talmor - showed me. I hated it. It was the least friendly, least accessible brand. It was exactly what I had asked for, which sent me into a full-on existential crisis. 

Thankfully Morey is extremely patient and we went back to the drawing board with some new keywords, and that’s what really opened up The Rubyverse. Especially the keyword: FUN. Overused, but not oft understood, i.e. I think fun gets misunderstood as a functional attribute → having fun, rather than the weird funky essence of fun. But now I'm waxing poetic. Can we talk about P.M. Dawn?

Who were your visual co conspirators and what was the initial brief to them?

I love that, my co-conspirators, very stealthy. &Talmor, a boutique agency run by all around design genius Morey Talmor, Fern Diaz, (who in my opinion had possibly the greatest Monday Media Digest with WITI ever) a hugely talented copywriter that unlocked Ruby’s cheekiness, Sharmila Banerjee, an illustrator who gave us the keys to The Rubyverse, Jen Yuan from the digital agency View-Source, who smashed all of our ridiculousness into the bite sized URL: www.ruby.fun

Illustration by Sharmila Banerjee

Honestly, I don’t think I made a brief. I love chatting things out and seeing what strange extensions pop up organically. But there were these beautiful moments where hidden pieces revealed themselves and it helped connect these miscellaneous dots. One example of that is the keyword fun. Another was when Morey sent me Sharmila’s illustrations and said, I think we need to work with her (like I said, he’s a genius, as is she). And the third relates to the questions you’re just about to ask me...

What role does world building play for Ruby? How do you think about it?

So The Rubyverse became a “thing” for us, first when Sharmila got involved and we realized there was something bigger to the branding. There could be a universe, but how to go about creating a universe from dust? I can think of only one person I could have asked, and they aren’t so easy to get in touch with…

The building blocks fell into place when I looked back at the crazy mood boards and reference points we had come up with → hundreds of images, cultural fossils, chotchkes, etc. There was a sense of melancholy: we had put all of this love and care into brand building and our end consumer would never see it. [Insert subtle inspirational philharmonic] But wait a minute… Why CAN’T we show our end consumer all the stuff that inspired this brand? [music picks up] Why CAN’T we take them backstage and show them around? [crescendo builds] We need to LET THEM IN!!!! [full crescendo, and then silence]. 

Some images from our very first moodboard when Ruby was going by the name Iggy.

The Rubyverse is an access point to the brand. It opens up different pathways for them to connect. This manifests itself in two ways: the literal illustrated universe, where creatures like Durgburg, Zobo, Utvarp and The Shmoo are battling the evil forces of sugar (Jeff is there too, but Jeff is kind of a dick), mainly driven by our instagram. We want people to feel an emotional tie to this weird little universe, to learn more about it and find our strange little easter eggs. The content around Ruby is the bigger part of The Rubyverse: our weekly newsletter, which majorially talks about anything but Ruby, but shows all of the things that we’re taking inspiration from on a weekly basis. We want to let people in.

Designed by &Talmor

How are you positioning it in a market of very cluttered supermarket aisles?

I hate to keep using the word fun, but it’s true. Our positioning is fun. The last ten years have become overly prescriptive. Drink x if you are feeling y. Drink a if you are feeling b. While Ruby is a functional beverage (full of antioxidants and electrolytes, with 0 sugar and 0 calories, wadup folks;) hierarchically we are a fun everyday beverage first. The two traits are inextricably linked, but the hierarchy is important to us. We aren’t trying to be prescriptive. What i’ve loved about Ruby from the get-go is that you can drink it whenever, however you want, and you don’t need to feel guilty about it. It’s all of the good with none of the bad, which ultimately is what fun should be.

Liu Bolin

How are you using email?

The bratty part of me really wants to answer with a dadjoke, but I’ll fight the urge. So right now we have two use cases of e-mail, one is for our cultural dispatches, here’s an example of one of those. The other is for ecommerce flows, but even within those we want to make sure it’s in our language. So we might bake some of our characters in to help explain our messaging. Example 1. Example 2 → the same will happen to you if you don’t subscribe to our emails. I kid!!! I KID!!!!!

Even the footer is an access point. I don’t think many people are actually clicking on Doors 1 - 4, and there’s a 50% shot that one of the links will take you to our social, but the other 2 doors take you to some hidden posts. 

The most important part of email for me, is going deeper on the brand. Every time I write a dispatch or one of the email flows, I get to know Ruby better. That likely sounds immensely cheesy, but it’s refining a voice. 

What do you think some DTC brands focused on performance marketing get wrong? How would you explain the dark magic of what you’re trying to do?

I want to be transparent: we are doing performance marketing. Are we doing a lot of it? No. But there does feel like there’s been a soapbox movement against performance marketing and I think that’s dangerous. As a new brand your biggest day (for a while) will be your launch. If you aren’t set up to begin retargeting from the get-go, you might have lost some seriously valuable short tail opportunities. 

Now, is Ruby pouring money into a dumpster and lighting it on fire with social platform trademarked gasoline? No. Are there brands that do? Yes. Are they wrong? I don’t know… I hear stories on both sides, you know? It isn’t our playbook, but it is a playbook.

For Ruby, we’re focused on content and world-building. To your point on the dark magic, it goes back to the ability to create a narrative that people can connect to, and nerd out over (i.e. emotionally connect to). A lot of that has to do with voice, and making sure you speak different consumer languages in an approachable way...

Photo by Emma Swanson

What’s one thing you’ve learned about going it alone and becoming an entrepreneur?

This is a great question. Beyond the fact that my wife is the greatest human being in the world (fact) the biggest learning has been threefold:

  1. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those who have done it before you. 
  2. You need to pay it forward when someone calls on you.
  3. Take every chance you’ve got to say thank you to the people who guided you. Thank you Sandro Roco (Sanzo), Melanie Masarin (Ghia), Tommy Kelly (Sound), Willa Townsend (Banza) and the ten million other people who have helped me along the way.

You can pick up some Ruby by clicking here.

Thanks for reading,

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).