How I Started A Protein Powder Business And Landed Shark Tank
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Joe Johnson. Along with my wife Megan, we are the founders of VADE Nutrition.
We provide the most convenient, portable, and hassle-free way to take powdered beverages for consumers who have an on the go lifestyle with our Dissolvable Protein Scoops – pre-measured servings of protein powder wrapped entirely in dissolvable packaging made of an edible food grade film. The film itself is completely tasteless and colorless. It is made up of food binders that are found in common foods and vitamins. We believe in being completely transparent, which is why we list every ingredient of both the powder and the film on each and every bag that we sell.
Our Dissolvable Protein Scoops are made of premium 100% Whey Protein Isolate. We believe that superior convenience needs to be matched by superior quality, which is why each serving of our Dissolvable Protein Scoops contain 20 grams of protein and 4.4 grams of branch chain amino acids while only having 90 calories, 1 gram of carbs, 0 fat and 0 sugar. Our product is also gluten free and lactose free. Our bags come with 30 servings. The 30 serving bags come in either chocolate, vanilla or combo, which contains 15 servings of chocolate and 15 servings of vanilla.
When we started we were only selling through our website, and now we are pretty much everywhere you shop online, and soon to be all over the country in retail. In the last 5 years of launching VADE you can find us on many e-commerce shops, a Shark Tank pitch ending in a successful deal, coming soon to large in-store brands and expanding our product line!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been an entrepreneur and athlete my whole life.
I wrestled for Michigan State University and was actually the captain of the team. I got my degree in finance and I landed a job as a wealth management financial adviser for after graduation, which I turned down to go into full time athletic ministry at Michigan State.
We immediately knew this was what we needed to do. I turned down my job and started working on this full time while sitting beside Megan’s hospital bed.
My wife Megan was a cheerleader from the University of Arizona. She moved to Michigan and we got married after my junior year of college and shortly after got pregnant with our son Noah. Just like us, Noah was determined to conquer every obstacle, so he tried to get out early and Megan’s water broke at 29 weeks. This happened a week before my finals week. I had been working on some business ideas in the fitness and nutrition market and while we were in the hospital talking about how messy my car was with powder and tubs everywhere we thought of this solution.
We immediately knew this was what we needed to do. I turned down my job and started working on this full time while sitting beside Megan’s hospital bed. That really set the stage for us to know that we were going to be able to make it through any trials we faced. We had no money and no idea how we were going to make it through, but we were determined that nothing could stop us.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When we started this business we had to search for partners and manufacturers. I reached out to over 100 manufacturers before finding one we wanted to work with. Once we found our manufacturers the problems started. Our first manufacturer cut off communication with us as soon as we were getting ready to launch.
We found another manufacturer and invested all of our money into this powder for our new launch. Unfortunately, this manufacturer was going out of business and they lied to us about the powder. They sent us protein powder with no flavoring whatsoever.
We took a step back and started the search again. During this time we were perfecting our product formula. The search was a very long trial and error but we did find the right one that could perfect the flavor and packaging we were looking for. My advice is to know what you’re looking for and what you want and don’t settle until you find that. You don’t need to settle because someone will be able to make it happen! I learned that you can never trust anyone too much, protect your brand and company.
We now have a very successful supply chain with the ability to scale to enormous measures, so it was all worth it in the end.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When launching VADE Nutrition I created our own website and began selling product on a few other e-commerce sites, such as Amazon, BodyBuilding.com, Groupon and GNC.com.
VADE was started by myself and Megan and our personal finances that we put 100% into starting the business and creating a product to sell to help innovate the industry. Once we had a product to sell it and packaging to sell it in the steps to create a website, marketing and social media began.
You just need to start. Remember to persevere through the hard times and be willing to pivot when the opportunities change. It’s a journey!
We created all our social media accounts and began marketing and running ads through that which would convert to our website in hopefully a sale.
We began attracting a large audience of customers about a year into the launch of VADE. Throughout our journey, my biggest lesson is finding the right people to work with and represent your brand. Along with dealing with adversity throughout my experience creating and launching VADE Nutrition.
In November 2019, VADE Nutrition aired on Shark Tank (Episode 10 Season 6) where we received a deal with A-Rod and Mark Cuban for $700k for 40% of the business. The Shark Tank process was a long process and no easy feat for us!
We had auditioned previously and did not move to the end of the process but we then applied again and went to the end! Once airing on Shark Tank in the weekend after our air date we saw over $50k in sales on our website and the brand recognition grew past where we could ever imagine.
The airing of Shark Tank really helped grow our reputability and awareness for both brands, companies, customers and future partnerships.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
With VADE being around for 4 years we have worked on finding, retaining and gaining new customers consistently since we first launched.
We really try to engage with our customers and followers through social media as many of our customers have found us or heard about us through at least one channel of social media. In terms of social media we touch most on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and our own website.
Our social media strategy is currently trial and error of learning what our followers want to see from us and how we can provide value to our followers whether it be in nutrition, wellness, fitness or lifestyle. We have posted content and we saw what we get the most engagement on and we always take note of that to try to create more similar to that. We’ve found that our followers love to see some insight into Megan and myself and what we’re doing, we always get great engagement when we post about ourselves!
It’s really important to understand your audience, what they want from you as a brand and what they like or value as an individual. If you do not understand your customer correctly, you are not valuable as a brand or product and the customer provides little value as they won’t align with you.
To bring existing customers back to VADE we try to remain on top of mind with a strategic time period. We have to understand that our product is purchased periodically throughout the year, per se a 30-day purchase cycle for our customers due to the consumption of protein. In terms of retargeting we do this majority of the time with emails targeting the customer with the email that they purchased and got shipping/confirmation information too.
Also, understand where your customers are engaging and when they’re engaging or actively viewing your content. To have successful marketing and ads you must actively publish content but also know how to read the analytics and how to effectively target and advertise to reach the maximum results.
VADE Nutrition currently does sell via Amazon and is a seller for Amazon and we have seen a growth in sales due to the convenience and mass platform that Amazon provides for customers, we plan to continue to sell on Amazon for the foreseeable future.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are growing at such a fast pace and learning as we go! We have taken on a very large team for the next quarter and are putting many hands throughout our daily, weekly and monthly operations to strive to be better and continue pushing ourselves! We plan to launch another product for VADE Nutrition which will be launching Summer 2019 our Blue-Razz pre-workout which we think will fit our current audience and be accepted very well by our current customers! While our internal business is growing we are also growing on our social media and brand awareness with customers and individuals in the fitness, wellness and nutrition industry.
A few metrics we view from our website is knowing that we have a lot of traffic coming to our online store with over 300 visits per day. We also are aware about 50% of those visits are coming from mobile whether they found through a social platform, which is majority of the time. Knowing this we make sure to have a very easily accessible website for mobile shoppers and a quick and convenient checkout process. In a month we can expect at least 11,000 online sessions from those visiting our site. Our social media following has also grown in the last 6 months exponentially reaching us to 11,000 followers which we credit because we have done a large focus on our social to grow our followers. An exciting ability now is to have the swipe up feature which as a team we felt really would help us convert sales more easily.
Our VADE short term goal is growing our team to a well-rounded team and expanding our product line. While our long term goal is to build a company that brings convenience and portability to people at all stages of life no matter what their nutritional needs are from baby formula to medicine for the elderly
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve learned to just do things and then fix them later. There’s many times I can see how I would hold back from a potential partnership, hiring new employees or taking the business to a new level and making any of these a longer and slower process. Although it’s more beneficial for the business and the learning process to be quick, think quick and fix quick.
I try to take action right away even if you’re uncertain about things and you will be able to figure them out as you go. Being an entrepreneur you have to roll with the punches and that sometimes means taking action to get things in motion and then finding the problems or things needing fixing afterwards. I could’ve found many reasons to stall the launching of VADE Nutrition but it took me just taking action and then finding those reasons afterwards and thinking quick and fast to fix them.
I’ve also learned to make mistakes and then learn how to solve those mistakes along the way. This is the only way you really can learn and grow especially while running a business and a team. When I make mistakes I own my mistakes and when I solve those I always take notes in what to do next time. Now that my team is growing it’s important to be a great example of making mistakes is okay and how we can learn from those. Mistakes are guaranteed in anything you do so at VADE we learn from ours and grow as much as we can!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We have implemented and “trial and error” many different platforms that help us be the best and the most efficient every single day. Our favorite tools we use for our day to day operations are Trello, Slack and Dropbox for easy use, communication and team efficiency.
We have built our website through Shopify and our favorite apps we have found for overall customer satisfaction is Smile Rewards, JudgeMe Reviews, Omnisend for email campaigns and Tidio for real-time customer service.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
VADE really stands for personal and professional growth and we hold true to that in our company. Any personal or professional books and resources are covered by the business.
We share resources and books that the team is loving and bring in a successful mindset in our business and in the office culture to keep us growing and challenging each other.
A top favorite book is the 10x Rule which Joe (I) could not speak more highly of for the takeaways from this book along with start with why and never split the difference.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
You just need to start. Remember to persevere through the hard times and be willing to pivot when the opportunities change. It’s a journey!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are growing our team exponentially right now in East Lansing, Michigan and utilizing the close proximity Michigan State University is to our office. We have many interns consistently throughout the year touching many different areas of the business. At this current moment we are not hiring any contract or remote work.
Where can we go to learn more?
Check out VADE Nutrition and learn what all the excitement and revolutionary dissolvable protein scoop is!
- Website: www.vade-nutrition.com
- VADE in the News
- Facebook: VADE Nutrition
- Instagram: @vadenutrition
- Twitter: @vadenutrition
- CNBC Article about Shark Tank Pitch
- Email: [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
VADE Nutrition has provided an update on their business!
Over 2 years ago, we followed up with VADE Nutrition to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Over 1 year ago, we followed up with VADE Nutrition 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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