How Chris Gronkowski Left The NFL And Became An Entrepreneur

$250,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
3
Employees
product
Ice Shaker
from Southlake, Texas
started September 2016
$250,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
3
Employees
506K
alexa rank
31.3K
followers
8.68K
followers
208
subs
platform

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Chris Gronkowski, the founder of Ice Shaker.

Many people know my last name very well, but this is mostly from the success of my family and especially my brother Rob has had on the football field.

Growing up in Buffalo, NY as the middle of 5 aggressive and oversized boys, I learned fast that it was going to take a lot of stand out. Like all my brothers, I went on to play a professional sport but my story did end there.

After being a three-year starter in the NFL I since moved on and have been able to successfully start two companies. My latest and greatest company has been featured all over the place after exploding on the scene after receiving offers from all 5 “Sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank. The company is called Ice Shaker - A kitchen grade stainless steel shaker bottle that I created out of necessity for myself and decided that the rest of the world would love this product as well.

Just 1 year ago, we had just 1 product in 1 color and 1 size. We now have over 65 variations, colors, and sizes. Ice Shaker has exploded onto the drinkware scene and will continue to grow as we continue to introduce more exciting products! Just one year after airing on ABC’S Shark tank, we went from $80,000 in sales to over $3 million.

how-chris-gronkowski-left-the-nfl-and-created-a-successful-business

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

The middle of 5 brothers, being the shortest meant I had to do something to stand out.

I was able to excel in school and in the weight room but struggled to get an athletic scholarship to play college football. After signing a letter of intent to go play at the University of Penn. and getting accepted into the Wharton Business school, I ended up getting a late scholarship offer to play division 1 football and accepted it. After playing college football, I had a chance to play in the NFL for 3 seasons.

Start slow and build fast! I started both my companies with very little money. They both started off extremely slow and it took time for me to figure out what was going to work.

After my football career ended in 2014, I continued to live a healthy lifestyle and went to the gym almost every day. After a hot summer day in Dallas, the shaker bottle that I was using was warm and smelly by the time I got to the gym.

This is when the Ice Shaker was born. A kitchen grade vacuum insulated shaker bottle that would keep my drinks ice cold all day long, not just at the gym but everywhere I went. I saw other bottles on the market that were doing really well that were using this material and vacuum insulation, but they were all extremely hard to fill and clean, and none of them had a way to mix powders.

At this time, my wife and I were already growing a successful business, EverythingDecorated.com. The experience that we had from growing a successful ecommerce site definitely helped grow with starting Ice Shaker and getting it off to a fast start. We were able to use our own money that we had generated from Everything Decorated and my NFL career to finance Ice Shaker.

how-chris-gronkowski-left-the-nfl-and-created-a-successful-business

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Manufacturing the product was not easy.

This was a brand new product that had never been made before. We had to get multiple prototypes before deciding on which bottle we wanted to go with.

The problem with making shaker bottles is that if they aren’t made correctly, then they will leak, which is exactly what you don’t want a shaker bottle to do. This was our number one concern when making the first prototype and if there was any sign of leakage we had to find a new seal or different way to make the lid.

The tooling fees are expensive along with the CAD drawings so you want to make sure you do it right the first time. This was not the case for us, our first shipment was terrible. We ended up having to hand check each and every bottle, and replace a lot of the lids because the pop tops were not made correctly and they weren’t closing correctly and in turn were leaking.

It took time to get the pop tops on the lids to close tight so that they didn't leak, but not too tight or you couldn't open the bottle easily.

The seal was another issue that we struggled with, and after going back and forth with multiple different seals we thought we found the best one.

We realized later that variations in the production of the bottle needed to be compensated for and later had to switch the seals that we were using.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Launching the company was pretty easy as we had already done this with our previous company. I set up an LLC which only cost a couple of hundred dollars.

The website buildout was something that I had done in the past as well, but I wanted this site to be special. We did use a company to build out our website and it ended up costing us about $5,000 for the website build out.

how-chris-gronkowski-left-the-nfl-and-created-a-successful-business

When we finally had product in hand and ready to sell, it was time for the big launch. The launch included me introducing the product on social media! The post was terrible, I wasn’t using social media much at the time so anyone that was following me saw it as an ad. I sold maybe 1 or 2 bottles from it and knew immediately that this wasn’t going to be as easy as I hoped.

That was pretty much all I had to go with at the time. I did not have an email list, or any kind of crowdfunding so the big launch was not so big. At that point, I realized that it was not going to be as easy as I thought and it was time to get to work.

I put the product on Amazon and started to go to shows. The reviews that came in from Amazon greatly helped prove that our product was something that people wanted and the sales started to pick up organically online.

The shows helped put the product in front of people and really gave us good exposure and had people talking about the product. We were going to bodybuilding shows where we knew other big supplement companies would be selling product and this was the perfect market for us to target. The booths were a lot of work but we got great feedback from it.

We realized that people would buy our product if we were able to show them why it was better than everything else on the market. We did this by filling our bottles up with ice in the morning and also filling up a plastic shaker bottle with ice and by the time noon came around all the ice had melted in the plastic bottle but our bottle was full of ice still.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Our best marketing efforts at first were to use Amazon and to go to fitness shows. This had to be done so we could get some credibility. Once we started to grow a decent customer base, the focus went to sending our customers to our website.

We were able to drive almost all of our traffic by using Facebook and Instragram. Google, SEO and Pinterest have come into play as well, but most of our advertising budget goes to Facebook.

Here’s what has worked for us:

  • Facebook and Instagram : Targeting anyone interested in lifting weights, living a healthy lifestyle or drinking supplements.
  • Google shopping ads
  • Pinterest : Anything geared towards women or gifts for men. Pinterest is mostly used by women so putting gift items for men always works well.
  • Press : We use HARO to reach out to reporters that are looking to use us as a source. Other than that, all the press is generated on its own. We have not paid for press coverage.

We do use FBA and sell through Amazon as well. Amazon’s platform cannot be ignored as they are able to generate a ton of sales through their extensive customer base. Our international growth has come mostly from using Amazon and we will continue to do this to break into the European market in 2019.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Ice shaker continues to grow every month. This January we are close to 300% from last year and expect this to continue throughout the year or grow as we continue to introduce new products and get shelf placement in big retail locations including the 3,500 GNC’s that we just got into in December 2018.

We just recently launched 11 full colored 26oz bottles. This is just one product drop, with a full line of Skinny Mini 12oz tumblers being dropped later this month along with a new 36oz shaker bottle dropping within the next couple of months.

The product line will not end there and we have a lot of exciting products planned for the rest of the year.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Shopify has been a blessing to work with. When I first created our website for everythingdecorated.com, it was extremely hard to work with.

We had to buy the website, find a website host, find a checkout cart that you had to purchase separate, and then find a payment processor. It was a nightmare.

Shopify put this all together into one easy to use bundle and it was so easy to work with.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I like to listen to MFCEO - a podcast by Andy Frisella about being a boss of your life and how to be successful.

The point that he drives home is that if you bring value to your customers and create a great product and great customer service, then you will be successful.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Start slow and build fast! I started both my companies with very little money. They both started off extremely slow and it took time for me to figure out what was going to work.

They were both side jobs at first, but I saw the potential and when the time is right, you have to be ready to jump all and work 80 hour weeks with little or no pay to get them off the ground.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I’m looking to hire customer service reps and help in the warehouse.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Chris Gronkowski,   Founder of Ice Shaker

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