Thrive Market: Building Transparency and Trust During COVID-19

Chief of Staff Nolan Green reflects on the changes needed to scale operations while adapting.

May 10, 2020


Thrive Market

During M13’s recent office hours about brand and communications, we discussed the importance of valuing your customers’ time by sharing how your business is being useful to them and the community. By doing so, the best attributes of your brand promise are reinforced and customers will respond positively.

Thrive Market, long known as a marketplace for accessible and affordable nutrition, has been leaning into their brand values, and it has paid off. During the last six weeks, Thrive Market has experienced an unprecedented surge in demand without increasing spend, hired 150 additional warehouse workers, and throttled demand as they strategically scale operationally. Chief of Staff Nolan Green took a break from his work to share his experiences during Covid-19 and what’s next for Thrive Market. Here are some key reflections for other founding teams:

Now more than ever, people are choosing brands that are aligned with their values.

We have always believed this to be true, but customer behavior during COVID has proved it out. People are choosing to live healthier, despite and because of the pandemic, and Thrive Market has become the source of trusted products during times of uncertainty. That has gone beyond fair prices and at-home delivery; our members are specifically calling out the way that Thrive Market has handled the crisis the way we’ve protected our essential workers in the warehouse, the way we’ve communicated with the member community, the way we’ve been helping create community in a time of social isolation. Those are all a lot more work than just providing good products at a cheap price, but we believe leaning into our values is what sets our brand apart from others, and customers will reward that with loyalty.

We stopped promotional emails and instead focused on two things.

We get what our customers are going through so we're trying to not be tone deaf. We cut promotional emails entirely until our warehouses were caught up. Instead, our comms have been focused on two things:


When members can shop the site or expect their shipment


Mission-related work around COVID-19 relief

We’ve been doing this across email, IGTV and IG Live, Daily Updates on our blog, and even the responses that our customer service reps are providing members. On the COVID-19 Relief Fund, so far we have raised more than $500,000 and Co-founder and CEO Nick Green even donated his salary for the rest of the year for our fund. Whenever we share these updates, we get hundreds of replies back reinforcing how proud members are to be part of the Thrive Market member community.

The time of COVID-19 has accentuated and accelerated the need for transparency and authentic brand stories.

People are thinking about safety right now, and that has accelerated the need for transparency. The best kind of transparency in our opinion is the kind of communication that tells members what they need to know, doesn’t bury the lead, doesn’t sugar coat, and comes from a place of reverence for the member. If it’s all of those things, it shouldn’t even need to label itself as “transparent” members will know what it is!

Another word we think about a lot is “human.” How can we remind each other that we’re all human and in this together? We’ve found that the most powerful way of doing this is to share the stories of Thrive Market employees, members, brands and how they’re struggling, coping, helping others through this difficult time. Those stories are both real and hopeful, and that’s the balance we want to strike in all our communications.

We are leveraging this time of growth to think through the right way to scale operations and accelerate the brand vision.

Focusing on brand is tough when you’re chasing demand. Right now, we have the opposite situation, where we’re throttling demand by nearly all means necessary to give us time to scale operationally. In light of no longer needing to chase demand, we’re thinking about what we can be doing right now with resources that previously were devoted toward promotions, toward short-term conversion wins, toward “driving the day.”

To that end, while operations scale, we’ve encouraged all teams to use the time and demand surplus to focus on building long-term brand value like improved lifecycle communication, better member experience on site, improved storytelling, etc. Aspects of the brand vision that we deeply believe in but assumed would have to wait until we were at larger scale are now right in front of us.

To grow and meet the demand of current and future Thrivers, we are focused internally and looking after our team.

First and foremost, we’re focused on the safety of our people. None of this can work without our teams so we’re being careful of burnout, encouraging proactive communication around health, and reminding the team that we’re going to support them if they need to take time away. In the warehouses there are obviously a ton of tactical measures we’re taking to keep everyone safe (also highlighted on the blog) and we’re being conservative about how we approach returning to the office for HQ thrivers.

But we’re also trying to use the time to get some learnings about working from home. One learning is we’ve seen a marked increase in productivity across nearly all teams, so we’re in no rush to get people back to the office unless their function requires it. This period has reminded us of what an incredible team we have and how strong our output can be if given direction and autonomy.

One of the hardest things as you scale is loosening your grip and trusting and letting your people run with ideas and be creative. So in that way, it has been an incredibly humbling, centering, and galvanizing period for the company that we think we’ll emerge better from on the other side.