Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Paul Sciortino, I am the founder of Ayo Supplements and we sell Matcha Boost, the best matcha tea supplement you will find on the market. It’s a simple
product; organic, ceremonial grade Japanese matcha powder combined with vitamin B-12 to support natural energy.
Matcha’s renowned health benefits are widely recognized and it is one of the healthiest substances in the world. It’s an acquired taste, however, and prep time can make it difficult to fit into a daily routine. I thought that if I created a quality product in a convenient “take with you anywhere” capsule, people couldn’t afford not to take it.
Since launching the company about 5 months ago, we’ve reached customers in over 100 cities across the country. Recently we became “Amazon’s Choice” for Matcha Pills.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Halfway through my college football career, I sustained a concussion that, at the time, appeared to be the end of football for me. I am not one to sit around for long, so instead of hanging out on the sidelines, I decided to revive my baseball career and walked on the baseball team as a junior. One problem, I was 275 lbs. I played offensive line on the football team and had packed on quite a bit of size to break the starting lineup.
After receiving clearance from the doctors to return to physical activity, I went from 275 lbs in June to 225 lbs in August. Now, 50 lbs lighter I was ready to take on D1 baseball. I made the fall roster but was eventually cut from the team. I then rejoined the football team as a senior playing tight-end at my new weight. As luck would have it, I missed the entire season after breaking my leg in practice three days before our first game. Gotta love sports...
Disappointments aside, one thing I succeeded in doing was losing about 50 lbs in eight weeks. It was a lot of weight to lose in a short period of time, but it was made easier through the discipline of the sport. However, what if you don’t have a college sport keeping you in line, forcing you to exercise for hours each day? What happens if you sit at a desk all day? And you have a deadline to meet and a weekend packed with friends and family and only 30 minutes to work out each day? What happens when we can’t be healthy because life won’t let us?
The difference is that someone who goes shopping is just looking, while someone who runs out of eggs and goes to the store just to buy eggs. Find your egg buyers.
That was my new reality after graduation and the reality for so many people out there.
In the first few years of joining the workforce, I struggled to maintain my weight, my workout schedule, my social life, and overall health. So what to do? Stop complaining, wake up an hour earlier, drink some coffee, and get on with it, right? Wrong.
I hate coffee. I just don’t like the taste, nor do I like the way it makes me feel. I get jittery, anxious, I crash but I can’t sleep. Is an iced caramel macchiato thing from Starbucks delicious? Yes, it is. Is it also 8,000 calories? Yes, it is. Will I die of type two diabetes if I drink one each day? Yes, I will. Coffee and I are like oil and water.
Insert matcha, which I had repeatedly read about as a superfood with incredible health benefits and a great source of clean energy and antioxidants. So I tried some matcha and quickly found out that just like coffee, I also hated the taste. However, unlike coffee, I was in love with how matcha made me feel. It was like taking an energy pill that’s also a weight loss pill that makes your body feel like a commercial for Fiji Water. So instead of choking this stuff down, I thought, why not just take it in pill form? I am traveling for work 90% of the time so making my own matcha is not an option. I’ll just go on Amazon and buy some pills.
Right? Wrong again. I went on Amazon and was quickly disappointed. Everything was either cheap or the serving size was so small I’d have to take ten pills or more each day. At that moment, I thought to myself that I could simply do better than this. Thus, I began my mission to make the best matcha supplement money can buy.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I started by making the pills one by one in my kitchen using a pill press, some empty capsules, and matcha powder.
I handed them out to friends and family and got some strange looks but they were usually followed by requests for “more of those weird, green pills you gave me.” Obviously my “manufacturing” process was not sustainable and I set out to find a more professional method.
I thought the process would be simple. I’d just have to find some Japanese matcha, throw it in some capsules, slap a fancy label on it and I’d be done. I’d be so busy counting my matcha money, I’d have to quit my day job.
That’s not what happened. I knew nothing about manufacturing supplements. For most of 2019, I researched innumerable supplement manufacturers only to discover that supplement manufacturing is a shady business. There are a ton of companies out there, eager to capitalize on your dream of owning your own company. They sell you cheap products at cheap prices so you can get started without much money.
I wasn’t willing to budge on quality so I had to find a company that met my standards. It needed to be credentialed, possess the ability to 3rd party tests, as well as to conduct their own testing. Finding a company that provided all of this for an atypical product like matcha and not a simple multivitamin was no small task. Luckily, after months of searching, I found a manufacturer with similar values and standards and production began in earnest.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Now that I had a product, I needed a package. And a cool logo. And some labels, and a compelling website, social media accounts, a fulfillment process, and endless other things. Not to mention, business licenses and trademarks and the legal fees associated with them.
FINALLY, I thought I was ready for the market. I saw Facebook and Instagram as a speeding train to success. I thought I’d run a few ads and find Ayo immediately immersed in orders. Such was not the case. I quickly learned that I needed a stronger marketing strategy and for that, I needed a bigger marketing budget.
My original funding plan was naive; find a few credit cards with 0% interest intro periods, combine that with some personal funds, and Ayo would be off and running. But my thinking was flawed and Ayo was crawling, not running along.
I dug a little deeper into my savings and began to look elsewhere to secure some marketing dollars. For any eCommerce businesses, I would recommend researching ClearBanc and Payability as they are able to offer some start-up friendly funding options that can put some extra cash in your hands fairly quickly.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
One thing that was effective before the Coronavirus pandemic* *was face-to-face interaction with customers. Our team scheduled pop-up events at local gyms, fitness studios, health stores, and spas. We enjoyed an enthusiastic response resulting in “healthy” sales. Obviously, that’s all been put on hold while the world waits out the pandemic at home. Having a physical presence in the community helped us connect with consumers, learn their needs, improve their lives with our product, and improve our pitch to the world.
Email marketing through Klaviyo has helped us engage with customers and start to form an Ayo family. We aren’t overly aggressive with our email promotion but we do send out updates and content that inform our customers.
We maintained our original presence on Facebook and Instagram with fresh and attractive posts and continue to engage with customers and followers on a regular basis. We also continue to invest in Facebook advertising, here is a sample of some creative work that has been featured in a recent campaign:
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are still all-in on building our brand and customer base. We’ve reached a point where we have some reliable operating cash flow but we are investing every dollar we make back into the business.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought our retail efforts almost to a complete halt. Hopefully, as the situation resolves we’ll pick back up where we left off. Solidifying a retail presence will help bolster our brand and obviously drive sales. In the meantime, we are in the process of vetting several PR firms that can help our brand and product garner attention from a variety of national press and media outlets.
Looking further down the road we want to expand our product line as we grow. We’d like to explore products surrounding rest and recovery, an area we feel is often overlooked by companies selling energy products. Our company ethos is “energy, evolved.” That means clean, natural energy products that provide more than just energy! With Matcha Boost, you get all of that along with superfood health benefits.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When you first start out, “sell to buyers, not shoppers.” I forgot where I read that phrase, but it is entirely true. It’s the difference between someone who goes shopping just to look, versus someone who runs out of eggs and goes to the store just to buy eggs. Find your “egg buyers.” For Ayo, our shoppers are on social media, our buyers are on Amazon. People go on Amazon specifically searching for matcha pills. They see our product, find that it’s better than our competitors, and hit the buy button.
In contrast, no one goes on Instagram looking to buy matcha pills. On Instagram, we can’t simply present a quality product, we have to convince consumers it’s right for them. While we will achieve long-term growth convincing shoppers to buy, we have been able to generate immediate cash flow off our buyers - Amazon - and are using that cash to convince our shoppers - social media.
We learned this the hard way, putting all of our time and energy into our website and social media first while Amazon was second. We’ve since flipped that and as a result, have seen a dramatic increase in sales. Now we use that revenue to build our presence outside of Amazon. We’ve had fun creating promotional items and an apparel line to help increase brand awareness.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The front end of our website is designed and built on Webflow. It is similar to Shopify or Wix or any of the other tools one might use to build a website. But Webflow offers some design freedoms we like to take advantage of. Our eCommerce platform, however, is Shopify. Shopify’s eCommerce capabilities are head and shoulders above Webflow’s and with so many more integrations it just makes more sense to use Shopify. For example, we use Klayvio for email marketing which has direct integration with Shopify making it easier for us to segment and target our customers with the most relevant information possible.
For productivity, we use Trello to execute our own flavor of an Agile Methodology. I come from an agile background developing software applications using the methodology so we figured why not apply it to our startup. Trello allows us to easily create sprint boards, manage our workload, collaborate seamlessly with each other, and get more done in a shorter amount of time. I highly recommend Trello for anyone who feels like they are having trouble organizing and staying on track.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The most influential podcast is easy “How I Built This” on NPR. Starting out I couldn’t get enough of it. At one point, I was listening to the podcast more than I was working on my business! I had to scale back, but I did learn a lot from listening to other people’s stories.
I also recommend the book Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike. It’s a fascinating story and exemplifies how few people are actually an overnight success. For years Phil and his team worked multiple jobs while getting the shoe company off the ground. Before it became the greatest brand on earth, it was a lot of hard work, done by just a few people on their weekends and in their evenings for years and years and years.
I discovered that supplement manufacturing is a shady business. There are a ton of companies out there, eager to capitalize on your dream of owning your own company.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Just start. I thought about this idea for a long time before I acted on it. What you learn in the first few months of starting out is invaluable and each day you aren’t working, you are missing an opportunity to learn.
After that, set goals, have a plan, and be ready to change it. Whether you start your business months before a global pandemic or not, I can’t stress enough the importance of planning and flexibility. We’ve been able to change plans because we had a plan in the first place. Taking time to clearly define short and long term goals is important, how you achieve those goals will undoubtedly change, but you won’t accomplish anything unless you have a clear vision of success - that starts by setting goals.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We could use a writer for our blog as that is an area we have struggled to regularly update. We have plenty of prompts for articles but seemingly not enough hours in the day to effectively create quality content. This would go hand in hand with our newsletter that gets sent out, which could always use some improvement. If you have some experience writing please feel free to submit any samples to [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Ayo Supplements has provided an update on their business!
About 1 year ago, we followed up with Ayo Supplements to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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