Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I grew up in Sunny San Diego, attended THE Arizona State University then moved to New York to work 100-hour weeks on Wall Street. Five years into finance, I "retired" and spent some time learning to “surf” in Costa Rica. I have been skinny dipping in Vietnam, kissed stingrays in the Cayman's, lived for a summer in a Buddhist temple in Japan, spent more of my life living out of hostels than I'd admit to my mother, and generally partied my way across 30+ countries. Throughout all these journeys, I refused to let a cold slow me down. I want to help do the same for you.
Hello! My name is Ryan Pfeiffer and I have been running Revive Me - a wellness shot company for the past year. It is a natural, shelf-stable drink, in short form. Our customers are anyone who doesn’t have time to be sick or rundown.
My first test batch was only 100 units. I ran around New York hand-delivering every bottle myself. Since then, I have launched nationwide shipping and am projecting to reach $5k in sales over the coming months.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Like many young professionals, I couldn't afford to get sick as an investment banker in New York. We had no “sick days” and instead loaded up on as many vitamins and health drinks we could try to hide our sniffles and returned to our desk. As soon as any semblance of a cold surfaced, I ran to the pharmacy, the health foods store, and a smoothie bar and filled up with vitamins, fruits, and pills. These were never cheap runs.
There had to be a better way to get back on my feet than a pharmacy cocktail of supplements. I started experimenting with ingredients that science has proven hastens recoveries, to create a single shot to fulfill all my vitamin and antioxidant requirements. When I took all these ingredients I either didn’t fully get sick or got back on my feet significantly faster. I went from someone with a rundown immune system to not having a cold in over a year.
I have no background in the food & beverage world. So with the help of a food scientist, I created a unique blend of ingredients that includes vitamin C and zinc, both of which are clinically proven to shorten your cold, plus a medley of other immune boosters and antioxidants.
Hand delivering bottles myself improved the quality of feedback and strength of relationships with my customers. When the founder comes to your apartment to deliver your order, you can’t help but respond to his request for a survey and tell your friends about the experience.
Idea in hand, I received my last finance bonus and left that crazy world behind to jump into the crazy startup world.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I first started trying to make my drink in my small New York apartment. This was...tough to say the least. Next, I tried outsourcing to a friend of my moms. That didn’t lead anywhere.
Idea formulation stage
Finally, I found a drink consultant with impressive credentials that would work with me. My first scope of work with him asked can you make this, and can you make it palatable? I truly believe my drink doesn’t exist in the marketplace today because it is a wide assortment of ingredients and flavors. This not only makes sourcing ingredients difficult and expensive but makes balancing the flavor profile extremely challenging. We went through dozens of iterations and months and months of samples before arriving at something I was extremely happy with. Long story short, he is a wizard in the kitchen. More scientist than cook.
The strongest validation I received was when a friend with an admittedly picky palate said she loved the drink and would drink it every day. I was just trying to get something drinkable to help people recover faster. I was ecstatic to have a product that tasted good.
My trial run sold out and was well received. Then when I reached out to ingredient suppliers to order a larger batch I learned the importance of minimum order quantities. Part of my consultant’s job scope was to find suppliers that would work with me, given my small size. I learned one of the ingredient supplies would work with me...if I ordered enough of their ingredients to produce ~900,000 bottles. So that was a no. Hitting this immovable roadblock was a tough realization after spending so long developing a formula I loved. I tried to get creative, but there was no way around it. We needed formula tweaks.
This sent us right back to the lab. Tinkering with dozens of levers again. Now I am happy to say version 2.0 has nearly the same ingredient profile as the original and a more complex and appealing flavor.
I still almost wish we never had to tweak the recipe because it cost me time, money, and stress, but I am very happy with where we ended up.
Finding a small-scale manufacturer was another adventure. The first couple of co-manufacturers I found had a 10,000 bottle minimum. I was trying to do a small test run because the capital outlay for 10k bottles was too high and too much of a risk. It took months to find a manufacturer that would work with me, and pick up the phone for a first-time drink manufacturer.
Being a drink company we had to be fully FDA compliant in our formulation and manufacturing process. My drink consultant came in handy again. He helped with the paperwork, while I incorporated the company, bought business insurance and started setting up the website.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I soft-launched my first batch in New York. Hand delivering bottles myself allowed me more time to work out shipping, but more importantly, improved the quality of feedback and strength of relationships with my customers. When the founder comes to your apartment to deliver your order, you can’t help but respond to his request for a survey and tell your friends about the experience.
I created the website myself. It was a constant iteration process over the course of several months. Shopify makes everything so easy, but some minor things are very difficult, i.e. they are currently employing their engineers to change the author of my blog post because it won’t let me change it myself. Within 1-2 weeks the website was probably 85% there. The ensuing months involved perfecting items and little tweaks and modifications.
Logo I created before enlisting professional help
I financed the entire operation myself. My little sister “invested” a couple of hundred dollars, which I used to pay a logo designer. It was a birthday gift to me and nice to point to my logo and say she financed that (and to grow beyond my design). I have not taken out any loans and have financed the business with my last bonus. I got a business credit card to separate my expenses and get the miles reward! Coming from a finance background, I model out and track every expense.
I did a lot of research and calls researching Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I think they can be a great route for some people, especially if your product has a high price point and you already have a decent-sized follower base. For me, I would basically just be pumping Facebook spend only to push an audience to Indiegogo, who would then take a cut. The best campaigns almost all have a campaign manager behind them. These firms know what they are doing and are not cheap.
I estimate that I saved at least $30k by not rushing things or taking the easy way out. I could have outsourced my drink formulation, website creation, and marketing then taken a back seat.
At my stage, I could not justify paying marketers, to pay Facebook, to pay Indiegogo, to build a following. It seemed nice to just spend cash and develop an audience, but at the end of the day, there are more organic ways to build up loyal customers and the alternative route was too expensive.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I am still new to paid advertising, but I have experimented with Facebook, Twitter, Google, Bing, and Reddit. You don’t have to invest a lot of time or money to learn a new platform and see if it works for you. There was a solid month during COVID-19 where FB ad costs dropped dramatically, and that allowed me to grow my email list for a very reasonable price.
I am still searching for ways to garner publicity. If you can get free advertising in a way that is true to your brand, that is of course the way to go. Paying Facebook is not fun.
Even though I am a millennial, I struggle with keeping up my Instagram posts. I have read all the articles highlighting why you need to post every day or at least several times a week. My account currently has 3 posts. I consider all to be high quality, but the lack of quantity is noticeable. My fear is over-posting will lead to followers unsubscribing and not grow my base. I know I need to be more confident with my posts and with my followers, but it's a tough line to walk for me. I just recently began engaging in relevant hashtags and commenting on other users' posts. This has allowed me to add some followers for no cost, excluding my time. The time commitment isn’t minor. If I pick up a couple of future customers it is worth it though.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I am not profitable at this stage and even if I was, I would be investing every dollar back into the business. My sales are all online and it will remain that way for the foreseeable future. I plan to add some additional SKUs at some point. I will not branch off too far from what I am doing and my purpose, but there are some fun tweaks that would allow me to grow my audience while staying on brand.
I am working with a fulfillment center, so I am scaled to grow without Amazon, but understand their importance as a search engine, so I am definitely considering that route down the road.
My brand is too young to accurately forecast LTV, but my estimate is it will be relatively high. My goal is to be your go-to for an immunity boost and for customers to have bottles stored in their house, office, gym bag, travel bag, and car.
My margins are not where they need to be yet, but my model shows attractive unit economics once I hit 10,000 units.
The conversion rate for my test batch was very high because it was mainly people I had a connection with: friends, colleagues, referrals. It will drop with this next round, but I hope to keep my referral rate high.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I estimate that I saved at least $30k by not rushing things or taking the easy way out. I could have outsourced my drink formulation, website creation, and marketing then taken a back seat. By doing most of those items myself, or working ad-hoc with freelancers, milestones took me months and months longer, but looking back, I would do it again to save all that capital.
The timing of the coronavirus has certainly been interesting. As COVID-19 swept our nation, launching my wellness drink was delayed over a month as my co-manufacturer ghosted me, suppliers disappeared, and shipping costs skyrocketed. It would have been great to deliver people 1,000mg of vitamin C and other essential antioxidants to help keep their immune system strong during this. That’s not how the cards fell though. But positive or negative, the last few months have been so far out of any of our control. All we can do is process the information before us and proceed down the best possible route. When you hit a roadblock or milestone, pause, evaluate, and repeat the process.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Shopify crushes it.
Azlo is a great digital, business bank account with no fees if you don’t require a physical location.
I am testing out MailChimp and it seems to serve its purpose.
Being a washed-up banker, any financial decision I contemplate and model out in Excel first.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Shoe Dog - Phil Knight’s story is inspiring and one of the best “business” books I have read.
Some others in no particular order:
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Start doing and stop researching. I researched, pondered, and made notes about my idea for 6-8 months before making any tangible steps forward. This was partly because I had a full-time job at the time, but was also thanks to my risk-averse nature. Coming from a finance background, someone is always above you and approving decisions. Once I broke free from these constraints I started making decisions that moved things forward. Make cheap decisions quickly and expensive ones slowly. But always move forward.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Utilize your network
- Tough problems sometimes require creative solutions, not brute force
- Call instead of email when possible
- The same way your customers trust you, you must trust your suppliers, manufacturers, and freelancers
- Make lists
- Cross items off said lists
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I am not looking for any full-time hires right now.
I would love to connect with any influencers or potential brand ambassadors.
If any college students are reading this, I might create a social media or operations internship. Please reach out to discuss this.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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