Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Louise Hendon, and I’m the CEO and owner of CoBionic. One of our flagship products is delicious chocolate collagen that’s sugar-free and dairy-free. When you add hot water to it, it turns into a yummy hot chocolate that’s good for your skin and joints. That’s why we named the product Indulgence Chocolate Collagen.
This is by far my favorite product as it helps keep my skin, hair, and nails vibrant but tastes like an indulgent chocolate treat!
And our philosophy for the company is really about creating healthy foods and supplements that also taste outstanding. We have 2 other flagship products that were also created for both taste and effectiveness:
- A sugar-free, dairy-free, all-natural, vegan berry-flavored full-spectrum prebiotic fiber that tastes like raspberry milk.
- A sugar-free, plant-based/vegan, organic chocolate-flavored protein powder that provides a complete amino acid profile.
We’ve managed to scale up in 2020 and have just hit 100k/month in revenue.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I got interested in health in my mid-20s when I was diagnosed with various health conditions (heartburn, IBS, and angioedema). I was shocked to hear from doctors that I might need to be on medication for the rest of my life.
That’s when I started changing what I ate to see if I could heal my body without long-term medication (and I’m happy to report I'm no longer on any medications!). But after switching to a much healthier diet, I realized there were still vital nutrients that were hard to get enough of through food alone.
I didn’t enjoy taking most supplements, though, and I would often “forget” to take them. I especially hated fish oil (that after-taste always gets me!) and some of the greens powders and protein powders were so bad they made me gag. So my husband and I decided to make our own creations.
Our first product was a prebiotic fiber that feeds good gut bacteria. While many people take probiotics, very few people get enough prebiotics to support those good gut bacteria. After several years of research, we created our own comprehensive prebiotic blend, but we only created it for ourselves to use. There wasn’t anything even close to it on the market - most brands use only one or two types of prebiotic fiber, but the scientific studies pointed to the need for us to get a large variety of different prebiotic fibers.
It wasn’t until 2018 that we finally decided to find a manufacturer and try to sell it. But as soon as we started making our prebiotic fiber (which we call “Foundation”) available, we realized we were onto a winner - we constantly had positive feedback: “The first time I used Foundation I felt a difference!”
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When creating new and unique supplements, the hardest part is often finding a reputable US-based manufacturer that will take you on without requiring huge minimums. We needed to test the product with a small production batch, and most manufacturers either couldn’t find the ingredients we needed or else required us to outlay $100k+ for the first production.
The most important part of your business is the people, the people that work for your company, and the people that purchase from your company.
We finally got lucky, and a good friend who owned a supplements company put us in touch with their manufacturer, who was willing to work with us for much lower minimums. We also used their label designer.
After creating our MVP (for approximately $5,000), we looked at feedback and improved the product in subsequent batches. The improvement process was probably the most painful part because it also meant that some of our first customers didn’t like the new versions as much.
For example, one of the biggest initial complaints was the flavor (it didn’t have much of a flavor -- so it wasn’t very tasty). And since we are a company that prides itself on making tasty supplements, this was something we changed very quickly. So the new version of Foundation had (and still has) a natural berry-flavor, but a few of our first customers preferred the tasteless version.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We used Shopify to build our website and during the launch, we tried to keep things as simple as possible so we could test out this new product idea and sales page. Our initial costs were just the costs of manufacturing the supplements. We then shipped the products to Amazon warehouses to sell on Amazon.com and used Amazon’s MCF option to ship anything sold on Shopify.
Driving traffic to our sales page for the launch was perhaps the hardest challenge - we had another business that had a health-related email list and we asked friends who were in the space to try our product and help promote it.
And so we were able to sell out of the first batch, the second batch, and most of the third batch without any advertisement.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We quickly realized that having just one product was a huge problem for the company. Even though our customers kept coming back to buy more of our Foundation Prebiotic Fiber, most supplement companies sell a variety of products. So I turned back to products we had already been creating for ourselves at home...and that’s how our second product, Indulgence Chocolate Collagen was born.
We worked with a great manufacturer in perfecting the taste of this product and then we created a small batch to test it out.
Our initial marketing was a sales page with this angle:
And we sold mostly to our existing email list and customers.
The product was a huge success and was quickly more popular than our Foundation prebiotic fiber.
Often shipping delays or website glitches are completely outside of our control. But how we deal with those issues is within our control, and so we try our utmost to provide prompt and high-quality customer service.
Once we realized that, we put a lot more effort into marketing Indulgence - influencers, recipe creators, and more.
We also hired a copywriter to help us improve the sales copy and were ultimately able to start scaling up on paid media.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Right now, we’re pretty much break-even on Day 0 while we scale via advertising.
Our main problems are ensuring ads remain profitable and making sure we don’t run out of stock.
We ran out of stock for Indulgence Chocolate Collagen for almost 3 months last year, and it disrupted all our subscription sales, Amazon accounts, as well as our advertising efforts. Our customer service team also had to field questions from frustrated customers.
We’ve put in measures to prevent this from happening again, but it’s a constant struggle between scaling up and at the same time making sure we don’t run out of stock!
We’re also expanding our product line to include even more delicious products.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the most important part of your business is the people...the people that work for your company and the people that purchase from your company.
Make sure you hire great people - they will make your business flourish and make working so much more enjoyable. I’ve been blessed with such an amazing team - even though we’re all remote, I love chatting with them on slack, working with them to complete new projects, and I count them as friends!
Look after your customers - we can’t always make everyone happy and often shipping delays or website glitches are completely outside of our control. But how we deal with those issues is within our control, and so we try our utmost to provide prompt and high-quality customer service. This is one of the things that’s hard to measure in a business, but it makes me sleep better at night. We hope to add phone and chat support to our business later this year so that we can provide even faster and more convenient customer support.
Running a physical products business is really challenging due to 3 issues:
- Shipping and storage costs and costs to manufacture goods - you have to know all your costs really accurately to be able to run advertising and not lose money! But when you sell multiple products and sell through different channels and fulfill from different channels, your costs can be difficult to calculate accurately as various unexpected factors will add to costs (e.g., shipments lost in transit).
- Cash flow - you often have to pay for products before you make any sales, so there’s a constant need to generate cash to buy more products but at the same time not run out of stock!
- Understanding all the Amazon rules - Amazon is a great platform and has helped so many small businesses gain customers, but they also have complex rules regarding storage costs, restrictions on what supplements can be accepted into a category, restrictions on what you can write on your product page, restrictions on what images to use, restrictions on how you can ask customers for reviews, as well as a variety of different fees that can add to your costs.
My tip here is to really understand the numbers and create detailed spreadsheets to track your costs carefully. Because our products are unique and use high-quality ingredients, their costs are higher than most supplements. That’s why we have to track our costs and our cash flow very carefully.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz - One of the things I never thought I’d have to learn is how to manage and lead a team of people and be responsible for a company, its employees/contractors, as well as its customers. But then that task is thrown at you and you have to learn quickly. This book didn’t just provide advice but helped me understand that it’s ok to fumble and get it wrong! It’s also just a fantastic read.
Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman - This book was recommended by a friend who’s also a business consultant, Rob Hanly, and it helped me understand how to create systems to manage and track the performance of employees as well as the business as a whole. It taught me key metrics to look at and monitor as well as the importance of structured meetings.
Topgrading by Bradford D. Smart - Hiring great people for your company is important from the very beginning so the earlier you can learn how to hire, the faster your company will succeed!
Baby Bathwater Institute - This is an entrepreneur organization with lots of people in the digital health space. I’ve had fun, made friends, and found great colleagues that I can discuss business with. These are people I can chat to about ROI and AOVs and LTVs, and they understand and find it fascinating in return.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Join a group of other entrepreneurs. I can’t tell you how much that helped me at the beginning - and I want to thank Jayson Gaynard for creating Mastermind Talks, which introduced my husband and me to so many amazing entrepreneurs at the beginning of our journey. It’s not just the technical know-how that they can help with but a lot of the mental support as well.
Where can we go to learn more?
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