How We Started A $600K/Month Business Selling Keto Cookbooks And Mealplans
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi - I’m Jeremy Hendon, one of the co-founders of Nourishing Brands (a direct-to-consumer media company that operates popular sites like KetoSummit.com). My wife and I started the company just over 5 years ago to help people make the transition to eating a healthy diet easier and way more delicious.
Today, our main products are cookbooks (both digital and physical) and challenges and courses centered around various diets. To provide a bit of context, we sold over 300,000 cookbooks in 2020 alone. But our first really successful product in late 2016 was the Keto Summit, a digital summit with over 30 Keto experts.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My wife and I used to be lawyers in NYC, and we really wanted to find something new to do that we were passionate about (not law). And we’d started eating a low carb Paleo diet over 10 years ago to lose weight and improve our health. We were only in our 20s, but switching our diet made a huge difference for being able to not gain weight, and also for my wife’s digestive issues and an autoimmune condition. Plus, we both felt a LOT more energetic - so we were pretty passionate about nutrition.
Jumping on a trend definitely helps, but you often need to be in the thick of things to see those trends coming.
That’s why we initially thought of the Keto Summit in 2016. We noticed that keto was becoming popular, and we had already released a popular keto cookbook. We suggested the idea of a summit to one of our friends, and he loved it.
So we partnered with him and created a digital event where we interviewed some of the world’s top doctors, nutritionists, athletes, and keto bloggers. Some of the big names included Dave Asprey, Dominic D'Agostino, Prof. Thomas N. Seyfried, Ben Greenfield, Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, Leanne Vogel, Maria Emmerich, and around 25 others.
Over 60,000 people registered for that first-ever Keto Summit in 2016, where they could watch the interviews free for 10 days. A large number of those registrants then went on to purchase recordings of the keto summit and also our keto cookbook.
At that point, we realized that while the summit was a fantastic way of introducing the keto diet to people, ultimately they wanted something tangible to help them with the day-to-day frustrations of what to eat.
Over time, we transitioned away from digital events and instead focused on cookbooks, evergreen courses, and meal plans. This also enabled the company to scale and reach even more people through paid media.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Planning a summit requires a lot of coordination and there’s no way we could have pulled it off so successfully without having a detailed blueprint to work from. And for that, I have to thank Sean Croxton and Dave Sinick for sharing their wisdom and experience running summits in such detail. I made detailed notes based on their presentations and then we checked off each item one by one.
We started by deciding on basic details of the event e.g., (how many interviews, how long each interview would be, dates for the summit to be “live”, affiliate commissions percentages). Then we created a list of our ideal experts, and we started emailing them asking them to be interviewed.
Once the interviews were recorded, then the rest of the work started:
- Videos needed to be compressed and to include the logo and intro, audio needed to be edited to be clearer, and transcripts needed to be produced.
- Sales pages and opt-in pages had to be written - an initial opt-in page, a thank you page (which included a video introducing the format of the summit as well as the opportunity to purchase instead of waiting), as well as a dedicated sales page.
A slew of different pages needed to be created, including.
A page for every single video along with descriptions of the video and the contributor.
Day pages listing which videos were available each day.
A calendar page listing when all the different videos would be available.
Error pages and redirecting people after a video had ended.
We created a membership site where purchasers could access the materials as well as discuss them in a forum.
We drafted affiliate materials (including emails, banners for websites, and banners for social media).
We set up an email autoresponder for people who registered, letting them know when each day’s videos were free to watch as well as when the discounted pricing for purchasing the summit would end.
An affiliate contest to encourage affiliates to promote.
Setting up affiliate links and making sure affiliates get the correct commissions and get paid correctly at the end of the launch.
A lot of “behind the scenes” work like having two different website servers set up so that the site wouldn’t go down at crucial times and two separate merchant accounts set up so that you can continue to receive payments even if one closes down for some reason.
During the summit, we also created many additional versions of the sales pages and opt-in pages to run split tests to improve conversion rates.
During the summit, we also had to cope with various technical issues (e.g., outdated browsers not playing the videos) and customer support problems (e.g., not getting the emails letting them know the videos had started playing).
The initial summit was pretty much all done by just the 4 of us. Our partners, Chris and Tommy, were absolutely amazing in handling all of the interviews, finding the best speakers, and helping to email them asking them to promote the summit as well. Without them, the product itself wouldn’t have been nearly as good as it was.
My wife ran most of the summit (from emailing affiliates and writing affiliate email copy to emailing the list daily during the launch, building the membership site, and handling many of the customer support emails). This allowed me to focus on the sales pages and the technical side of things (e.g., making sure the pages and videos loaded quickly and that our site didn’t go down).
Describe the process of launching the business.
We did a soft launch and a pre-sale to the small email list we had before the summit. This allowed us to test pricing as well as validate the concept before the actual day of the “launch.” But for summits, the important launch date is when affiliates start telling their customers about it and this is often called the “pre-launch” period.
For summits, this pre-launch period is really important - it’s when you ask affiliates to email about the summit telling people to opt-in asap. Once the summit actually starts, fewer people opt-in because they feel like they won’t be able to watch all of it anymore.
Because we didn’t have much of an audience at that time, we were relying heavily on affiliates (most of whom were speakers on the summit) to promote. There was no guarantee that anyone would promote and so it was very nerve-wracking the first few days. We could have done months of work for very little payoff.
But once affiliates did start promoting, I think they realized just how popular the summit was as well as how well our opt-in and sales pages converted, and that helped convince them that they should keep promoting it. If your audience loves and wants the product (and it’s free for them to watch if they don’t want to buy it), then it’s not hard to promote it a few more times.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
One of the main problems after the summit ended was that we had nothing else to offer our customers, and we spent several months scrambling to figure out what the business really was.
Say “no” very fast to most projects, so that you can stay focused on the most important things.
For a while, we offered just a few additional cookbooks and meal plans but nothing more. And we ran the keto summit a few more times (but this mainly generated new customers).
We created a website with recipes and articles on Keto to help support our existing customers as well as attract new customers through SEO.
But it wasn’t until 2018 that we started running paid media, and that’s when the business really took off.
We had a short consulting call with Dave Sinick, and although it took us about 6 months to really implement what he told us -- once we did, we were able to really crack paid media. It was an eye-opening experience in terms of just how fast you can scale a business.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, we have a catalog of 40 cookbooks, over 100 weeks of meal plans, 4 challenges, over 10 different guides, and websites with thousands of posts covering 3 different diets.
What we’ve always been good at in the business is acquiring new leads or customers. That started with the summit, and then with website opt-ins, and now with paid media. In 2020, we gained around 300,000 customers.
Our plans for the immediate future are to continue creating new products and also improving our existing cookbooks and meal plans by adding in new recipes and images.
We’re also planning to create a meal plan software as well as to add more programs (with higher levels of support) so that customers can be given a more personalized experience.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
- You need a combination of skills to make a great company, and almost no one person has them all, so partner with people who really compliment you.
- Focus -- say “no” very fast to most projects, so that you can stay focused on the most important things.
- Jumping on a trend definitely helps, but you often need to be in the thick of things to see those trends coming.
- A lot of it is luck, but if you persevere, your chances of getting a lucky increase.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Maropost - for emails (more of our emails actually get delivered to customers now).
- Paykickstart - for cart software (they’re one of the most customizable and their development team actually does care about feedback, which is really refreshing).
- Upwork - the ability to hire is so important
- Adobe Creative Cloud - we do video editing using Premiere Pro, create cookbook designs using InDesign, process food photography using Lightroom, create social media ads using Adobe Rush and Adobe Spark.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
TopGrading and Who - Two of the best books available about hiring. It is easier to read, but TopGrading is more detailed and ultimately more useful if you put it into action.
Breakthrough Advertising and Scientific Advertising - Again, two books, but they’re both excellent in terms of teaching you how to fundamentally think about markets, marketing, copywriting, and positioning.
Fooled by Randomness. Probably Taleb’s best book, as it really reminds you just how much information is really noise, and just how tough it is to distinguish signal from noise. (But also how important it is.)
The E-Myth Revisited. It’s easy to get carried away with this book, and great hiring is probably more important. However, few books can be this captivating on a subject as typically boring as company processes.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
In general, avoid trying to be too original when you first start. Because of the time we live in, we see success stories like Stripe, Uber, Instagram, etc. - all of which were pretty original and ground-breaking in one way or another. But there’s a lot of survivorship bias in those stories and a lot of luck. Originality is obviously great, but only if you already have the skills and knowledge of a particular market to actually know what people will buy or use. And that’s much harder than it sounds. Instead, use a proven business method and a product that you know people want to pay for. That allows you to build up the marketing and business skills you need to run a great business and then come up with original ideas.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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