How I Started A Seven-Figure Supplements Business

$300,000
revenue/mo
3
Founders
15
Employees
product
Lost Empire Herbs
from Watsonville
started May 2012
$300,000
revenue/mo
3
Founders
15
Employees
356K
alexa rank
3.42K
followers
340
followers

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

I’m Logan Christopher, co-founder, and CEO of Lost Empire Herbs. We’re an ecommerce business in the herbal supplement space. We specialize in high-quality herbs from across the world that help people in different aspects of health and performance, most notably hormone support.

As an example, our best selling product is Pine Pollen, which is literally the pollen of pine trees. It’s unique in that it contains phyto-androgens, including the exact same testosterone, DHEA and other hormones we humans have. This along with lots of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other components helps it to support our own hormone system. It works great for both men and women, especially the older crowd.

To us the “Lost Empire” is nature, that we modernized humans have largely got away from. The use of herbs (outside of a few culinary herbs that taste good) is a forgotten areas. And our health and well-being is suffering from it. So our mission is to bring back herbalism into the mainstream.

And it seems to be working! We’ve gone from starting the business on a table top to being in the mid-seven figures in revenue.

how-i-started-a-seven-figure-supplements-business

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

I had been using herbs for a number of years myself mostly to enhance my athletic performance. In addition to this company, I also run Legendary Strength, where I teach people feats of strength, kettlebells, gymnastic-style training and more. You can see a few examples of my feats of strength including pulling an 8,800 lb. firetruck by my hair, juggling flaming kettlebells and more on my Best Of Videos here.

We knew nothing about this industry going in. And I think that was okay, we’ve just been learning and growing along the way.

Anyway, back in 2012 my two brothers, Cloud and Zane, were starting to get into herbs too, most notably the Pine Pollen. Cloud said to me one day, “If I find a supplier of this stuff do you want to make a business out of it?” I said yes, and that’s how we started. Although I had experience in the info-marketing space, ecommerce was new to me. And being in the supplement space was completely new to all of us!

At that time I was full time in my other business, Cloud was driving 18-wheelers across the country, and Zane was hopping around from job to job.

But as we continued, we learned a lot. The business grew from literally storing herbs on a tabletop, to what it is today. I feel like we really got serious about it roughly two years in when we got our first office/warehouse space.

Also, when we started we were called Super Man Herbs. But when we went to trademark that DC Comics applied to block us. While we never received a cease and desist letter, our attorney advised us to change our name.

That was an intensive process, coming up with something that we liked, where a dot com was available, and no other trademark issues. In fact, it was a “sign from nature” that gave us our current name.

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

Cloud had been ordering pine pollen wholesale from another company, and then he was re-selling it to his friends. So when we looked to go direct, buying from a supplier we went onto Alibaba.

how-i-started-a-seven-figure-supplements-business

We were able to buy this pre-packaged, slapped a label on it and voila! we had our first product. I don’t recall the exact details but it was probably less than 200 units for less than $1000 including shipping.

For the next couple products like Black Ant and Shilajit it was much the same process. It was simple enough to start, though looking back we don’t work with any of the same suppliers.

We’ve found better ones, and as you might imagine our quality control standards have gone up significantly. (China has a horrible reputation...but that doesn’t mean everything coming from China is bad.) In the supplement world, everyone says they have the best stuff...which makes it really hard to find the real best stuff. All suppliers should supply COA’s (certificates of analysis) which is a good starting point. That’s what we sought out then, as well as trying the products ourselves. Nowadays, we do third party lab testing for ID, heavy metals and aerobic counts which we display on our product pages. Sometimes there are additional tests used too. We also vet potential products for their taste, effects and more.

how-i-started-a-seven-figure-supplements-business

Our business was run off of a simple agreement between me and my brothers, and legally was run under my other business, Legendary Strength. I’m all about testing things out before dumping a bunch of time and resources into them.

Right around the same time we got our first location, we finally separated it off and formed its own LLC. Sales were enough that we could really start putting more time and effort into it. Soon enough it all became our main gig.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I threw up a quick website on Wordpress and launched the business online to my existing email list of fitness people. This brought in some of our first sales.

Make that first sale as soon as possible. Nothing will teach you better than real experience in doing so. Nothing will prove whether an idea has legs or not than people exchanging their money for it.

And it was ugly, as you can see below, even though this was after a few months of operations! Simultaneously, in-person sales was our other main channel.

how-i-started-a-seven-figure-supplements-business

All in, we started on a shoestring budget using savings and credit cards because that’s all we had. We found a supplier that didn’t need a super high minimum order to get started with. Once we were selling that first product, we could reinvest into the next order and start to expand our product line.

Those first few sales online were exciting. It would be a $30 sale here, two days of nothing, than a $50 sale the next. Very hit and miss, with us making around $1K a month in the beginning. It was super exciting, a couple years in, when we finally had a month were sales were coming in each and every day. And it hasn’t stopped since then.

One of the early mistakes we made is that we were taking profits out of the business at this stage. Had we kept the money in, and had a better plan, we could have gotten through the early years of slow growth at a much faster past. We really treated it more as a hobby and a source of our own supply of herbs more than a business in the start.

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

Of course quality products is the first and foremost thing. Without that, nothing else that I mention here would matter.

And despite having a 365-day money back guarantee where they don’t have to send anything back in to us (meaning they can use the whole bag or bottle to see if it works for them) our refund rate has always been under 2%.

Email & Content Marketing

Email and content marketing has always been a mainstay of what we do. Since the early days up through now it’s still driving about 50% of revenue.

We are sending emails pretty much every single day through a variety of broadcasts and campaigns. While some people complain about too many emails (we have a weekly digest option for that) many of our customers routinely tell us how they love our emails, articles and videos.

how-i-started-a-seven-figure-supplements-business

Because herbs are outside of the conventional, we feel lots of education around them is important. As a few examples you can see what we teach about:

Our content strategy is multi-fold. One part of it has always been things that I (and my team) get intrigued by. Because I am my customer, if I’m into it, chances they will be too. We’ve also targeted keywords to build SEO. This was a good channel for us early on, though recently with Google’s Medic Update we suffered a hit. And much of last year was spent creating a blog and/or video to cover most of the questions we received more than once for our CS team to be able to quickly point people too. Throughout all this time we haven’t been super consistent about a blog posting schedule, instead sharing things as we made them available.

A lot of our early growth came through affiliate marketing. In fact, I can attribute our growth up to seven figures largely by this method. By offering a generous percentage on a lifetime commission model, I was able to get many people in the fitness niche that I already knew to promote the herbs. That means that affiliates would get commission if a customer bought today...and also a year from now.

Amazon only accounts for around 15% of our revenue, which sets us apart from many ecommerce companies. From the beginning we simply focused on our website which is why that’s our dominate channel. But in the past one to two years we’ve made much stronger Amazon efforts and are starting to see good traction there.

Nowadays, we get a bit of traffic from everything. SEO, YouTube, Google ads, Facebook ads and social. We’ve even dabbled in direct mail and plan to get serious about it soon.

My advice is to find one channel that works really well and grow by focusing on that. But, since one channel is not a great place to stay, then you’ll want to spread out and diversify. I would also say to pay attention to the channels that work well for pretty much everyone (like email marketing) and not be swayed as much by new, sexy social media channels, which are harder to monetize.

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

This video shows what we’re really about and what we’re aiming for. (Doing more and higher quality video like this was a big goal of ours last year.)

We’ve also been working more at showing the quality of the herbs by visiting the farms, looking at the processing and showcasing everything involved. Our Schisandra, grown in Massachusetts, is a good example.

We grew over 40% in 2018 which I’m proud of. In doing that, we actually had less profit than the year before. Normally that wouldn’t be good, but we made the decision to sink more of the money back into the company through expansion of operations, marketing and our team.

Here are some metrics:

  • Our average order value floats just under $100.
  • Our lifetime customer value (just looking in the rear) is around $280.
  • Our sitewide conversion rate floats around 2-2.5%.

One of the things I’m really proud of is our NPS (net promoter score) which floats around 70. That’s a really high number, especially for a supplement company. Similarly you can see that we’re rated 9.2 out of 10 on the third party review site, TrustPilot. And that is closing in on 1000 reviews.

We’re always working on expanding our product line, though doing so with more intention these days than in years past. Part of this for 2019 is putting our formulas into capsules. The longer term picture will involve more of a vertical integration plan but I won’t say more about that now.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We knew nothing about this industry going in. And I think that was okay, we’ve just been learning and growing along the way. Sure, it would have been great to have some expertise or experience going in, but if that’s not the case, there is one way to get it. Too many people let lack of knowledge stand in their way of getting started.

One of the things that I personally had to learn a lot about was hiring, managing and leading people. Doing the solopreneur thing for years before was fine, but this was a whole other skillset.

And really, if you can get awesome people, they will grow the company and make your life easier. If you get poor quality people, the opposite will happen. Thus, discovering how to recruit amazing people is probably the #1 necessary skill.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We are on WooCommerce on WordPress. Our CRM is Infusionsoft which handles our affiliates, email marketing and more.

But we are in the transition to moving onto NetSuite, which is a big undertaking. We’re hopeful that this platform will allow us to grow for the next decade or more.

Just some other tools we use with quick notes about them (though I’m sure I am forgetting about so many right now):

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

I got started in my journey largely because of Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. And I read a lot so I could list off so many other books. To give an example I read 73 book in 2018. You can see the list and some details about them here.

Ezra Firestone and the team at Smart Marketer are amazing for anyone involved in eCommerce. Also, the eCommerceFuel podcast has been amazing.

Since getting my start in business I’ve always taken part of various Mastermind groups. That included Smart Marketer’s mentioned above. I’m a member of Yanik Silver’s Maverick 1000. And I just recently joined Perry Marshall’s Roundtable. Nothing is better than getting around people smarter and more successful than you, to help grow a business.

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

Make that first sale as soon as possible. Nothing will teach you better than real experience in doing so. Nothing will prove whether an idea has legs or not than people exchanging their money for it.

For those beyond the first few sales, realize that if your business is going to grow, and you’re the leader (or one of the leaders) than you need to grow with it. If you want your business to grow 100% this year, are you willing to and putting in the work to grow 100% yourself? This journey has made me focus on things that were blind spots before such as systematizing a business, or anything related to people!

One great book worth reading, as it charts the course of businesses in general, is Predictable Success by Les McKeown.

I would also recommend for anyone looking to move beyond just starting out to either get Traction by Gino Wickman or Scaling Up by Verne Harnish. These are very good roadmaps to running a successful business.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are looking for an amazing Marketing Technologist. That is someone that is good at the fundamentals of marketing which can be applied in various channels...and importantly can handle setting up platforms, funnels, making technologies talk to each other. This could start part-time but has the potential to be a full-time position.

Where can we go to learn more?

For more from me personally:

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  

Logan Christopher,   Founder of Lost Empire Herbs

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