Hi! Tell me about you and your business.
Hi, I’m Benjamin Hebert and I’m the co-founder of NaturalStacks.com. We’re a rapidly growing supplement company that specializes in brain health.
Our products are designed to target concerns like memory, cognitive function, and processing speed.
Our flagship product CILTEP is a patented nootropic formula (a unicorn-like event in the supplement industry). We’ve funded three different clinical trials and have been able to build an incredible brand built on transparency and trust.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I got my first experience in e-commerce at an e-commerce startup called Gift Card Rescue - a type of secondary marketplace for unused gift cards. I started as an intern while at the University of Maryland and eventually went full-time as the first employee. I was working full-time and going to school full-time.
What I took from that experience was how to build a bootstrapped or self-funded business. It’s a lot easier to learn these lessons the first time when the mistakes aren’t your own dollars! Since then, I’ve founded and sold three other companies.
In our first 100 days, we did over $100,000 in revenue which was a god-send because I think my bank account was very close to bouncing.
I don’t have a background in nutrition or the supplement industry. A little bit of backstory on me:
My first experience in the supplement and fitness industry came after reading a Men’s Fitness magazine sometime after my first weight training class in high school.
I remember seeing a bodybuilder next to this product called “No Xplode” and thought "holy crap"; I want to look like that, and I definitely need that product to do it! I was immediately sold.
I bought the product and took it before weight training one day, but the only thing that happened was I felt crazy and itchy as hell. It took me until 12th grade to bench press 135lbs, so I don’t think it worked.
But this still didn’t stop me from trying out tons of other supplements. I did all of this experimentation without being educated in these products - I was just trusting the labels and blindly believing in the marketing. Eventually, I grew up (debatable) and started researching into what I was putting into my body.
And holy crap! The supplement industry is crazy. Most labels have a “proprietary formula” on there so that the manufacturer can hide what is actually in the product (a ton of major brands have actually gotten in trouble for this).
The idea for Natural Stacks started like any other successful business. We identified a problem in the market and worked our butts off to try and solve it.
For us, we wanted to solve the problem that was the lack of transparency and trust in the industry. Instead of going after the entrenched competitors in the bodybuilding and fitness space, we niched down and chose the natural mental health category.
Describe the process creating and launching the product.
I have the best business partner, Roy. We operate almost like a restaurant where I’m front of the house and he’s back of the house. So he handled the manufacturing side for the initial product launch. We scoured the world to source the best possible ingredients.
In order to live by our mission of transparency, we decided to list all of our ingredients on our website.
This was unheard of for any supplement company because anyone could copy you. It’s kind of like a lamer version of Elon Musk opening up all of the Tesla patents. But we know it's for the greater good, so we’re all for it.
To make sure everything was legit, we used an FDA consultant for all of our claims and our marketing. This was (and still is) incredibly important in the retail setting, which is much more controlled than what you’ll find online.
As far as design of the product, we’ve been using the same designer since we launched. It’s funny because I met Andrew (our designer) on a forum around 2006/2007 and have been working together on various projects since then. We've never met in real life and I’m pretty sure that he’s a genius working for NASA or something like that by now and only does our projects for fun. I usually send him something awesome once a year. Last time I sent him a signed LA KINGS photo. Writing this is a good reminder to send him something again!
We’ve made design changes and modifications to our labels throughout the years. It’s a lot of fun having the creative control over your brand. As a small company, we have a ton of input and do a lot of different things when it comes to design and packaging.
For our launch, we decided to go with two SKUs instead of just one because we wanted to be taken seriously. I think that a lot of people launch with a single SKU and that's fine. But if you look at the successful Kickstarter projects out there, they always have extras or bonuses. Launching with two products gave us more room to be creative with our marketing.
In our first 100 days, we did over $100,000 in revenue which was a god-send because I think my bank account was very close to bouncing. We wanted to launch directly to the early adopters, the people who understood the problems in our industry and would champion our message.
Here are some of the things we did for our launch that really helped move the needle:
- Getting on a podcast: We launched on Jesse Lawler’s Smart Drug Smarts podcast. That really introduced us to the “hardcore” audience and started the hype around our product, CILTEP, and the brand.
- Wholesale deals: We were aggressive in selling to other e-commerce stores as well offering sizeable discounts for wholesale orders. I remember sitting in a Panera bread trying to figure out how to send an invoice for Quickbooks and praying that I wouldn’t mess it up.
- Forums: Forums are notoriously hard to penetrate, so instead of trying to advertise or something like that we just gave away some free product to some of the top posters. Most of the time brands want something in return, but we said, “Hey, just have our product and if you like it maybe you can write about it. If not, it’s cool.” Most humans are good people and will reciprocate accordingly when they get free stuff.
- Luck: We got lucky with the timing and the trend for cognitive enhancement products. For entrepreneurs out there staying on the edge of what’s happening and what’s new is always a good way to build a business.
What have you done to grow the business to where it is today?
It was pretty cool getting invited to the after-party of someone winning $10M, but it was even cooler to be the (brain health supplement selling) sponsor of an athlete that just won the most prestigious poker tournament in the world. That’s one example of where we’ve gotten really lucky.
I'm going to take a second and brag here, but we also make incredible products like our GABA for sleep or MagTech Magnesium. You can of course run a very successful business with lower quality products, but this won't last forever and you'll always question putting your name behind it.
Just until recently, we haven’t had much of a marketing awareness budget or strategy. We probably spend 80% of our time, effort, and energy on our existing customers.
You have to jump in headfirst with entrepreneurship. There’s no dipping your toes in and then figuring out if you want to get in the water.
Our customers have a billion choices for supplements out there, so if they decide to use our brand then we have to go the extra mile to help them.
Part of that means creating content they love, like our top-rated podcast or coming up with unique promotions with other brands. Since we’re a consumable product, we naturally want them to enjoy our products and consume more. It’s the best use of marketing and sales dollars.
So what has worked for us?
- Podcasting: Our Optimal Performance Podcast is now on Season 2 with over 155 episodes. We explore a lot of complex topics like nutrition, dieting, cognitive health and more.
- Rapid response: Rapid response is the act of responding to new studies or trends. If a new study or hot topic emerges, like coconut oil being declared as evil, we’ll respond with our opinion and contribute to the ongoing conversation. We're not afraid to take a position with our brand.
- SEO: SEO-based articles are usually more detailed and thorough and designed to target a certain keyword. Our website is pretty technical and appeals to a knowledgeable supplement user. We’re able to market to the best potential customers at a very low cost compared to paid advertising. For example if you look at this one for natural anti-inflammatory or does the NZT-48 pill exist we are targeting questions that our target market has and then linking the content right to our products
- Brand collaborations and giveaways: I think a lot of brands try to avoid working with other similar companies which is dumb. The market is big enough for everyone. If I take supplements from one company, I’m definitely using others as well. Everyone can win. We will get donations from a few brands and put together a giveaway on Gleam.IO or King Sumo. Then we will promote it on the podcast and in our content. The trick here is to offer a nice coupon out to everyone who didn’t win thegiveaway. It’s a great entry point for your brand.
- Human factor: So much of the online e-commerce experience is so totally robotic. We try to make our brand feel "human". Does that mean we’ve done everything right? Absolutely not, but we work our asses off to have a great customer experience.
If you could go back, would you do anything differently?
I would have gotten out of the way earlier. I used to think that I was a marketing person, but I’m not. I’m awfully bad with data and can’t do a pivot table to save my life.
Admitting your weaknesses and bringing in people who are strong in those areas where you are not is the difference between scaling and not.
A lot of people ask me when should they get out of the way and when should they make the first hire. I believe it's when you’ve hit max capacity. What I mean by that is is when you’re writing the emails, responding to the support tickets, preparing the ad sets, and taking wholesale all by yourself.
If you’re the type of person who thinks there is no max capacity and you’re going through risky unhealthy behavior to push it, I’d recommend slowing down. That being said, there’s certainly a time when there is no off switch and you’re in that "moment" and you have to go almost 24/7. Both scenarios are a lot of fun. If you’re reading this and you’re an entrepreneur already kind of crazy, you probably know what I mean.
Where you are at now and what are your plans for the future?
We’ve funded three separate clinical trials for our flagship product CILTEP. If the data comes back positive, we’ll increase our advertising and expand into new channels. The brand has also seen tremendous success at the retail level, so we expect to continue growing in that area.
Since we’re in this for the long-term, it’s our opinion that people will begin to prioritize their mental health. Similar to how the fitness movement shifted from bodybuilding to more functional fitness like Crossfit, we expect the same thing to happen in our niche. We’re already seeing that happen incrementally on a daily basis.
Our team is so solid now - I think everyone is just having a ton of fun going after our goals and working together.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
After writing this, I’m going to cancel everyone on the team’s AMEX cards so we can review all of the services we've signed up for that we don't use.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources for your business and why?
I don’t really read business books anymore. I think it’s a lot more important to focus on the mental health and personal development side of things. For that, I recommend Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I got my first job at a startup when I was a sophomore in college.
I had just transferred from out of state to in-state, but then quickly made the jump to full-time. My mom wouldn’t let me drop out so I finished school at night while working all day.
I loved it. You have to jump in headfirst with entrepreneurship. There’s no dipping your toes in and then figuring out if you want to get in the water.
Where can we go to learn more?
Check us out on naturalstacks.com, and find us on social media at:
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help you get started.
Interested in starting your own business? Join Starter Story Premium to get the greatest companion to starting and growing your business:
- Connect + get advice from successful entrepreneurs
- Step by step guides on how to start and grow
- Exclusive and early access to the best case studies on the web
- And much more!
Food Foundry is an accelerator program built by Relish Works & Gordon Food Service for early-stage startups disrupting the foodservice industry. Applications are open now through October 23rd! Apply today if you’re looking for:
- $75K in funding
- Specialized early-stage curriculum and resources
- Dedicated mentorship from investors and foodservice experts
- Highly supportive community to help grow your business
Food Foundry’s 2023 cohort will kick off in January in Chicago and end with a final invite-only showcase for companies to pitch to investors and the broader Food Foundry community.
Apply NOW [It only takes 10 minutes!]