I Started A $1.08M/Year Snacks Ecommerce At 17 [With Only $300]

George Greenhill
Founder, Protein Package
$90K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
4
Employees
Protein Package
from Bridgnorth, UK
started August 2017
$90,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
4
Employees
351K
alexa rank
14.1K
followers
31
followers
1
subs
market size
$18.9B
avg revenue (monthly)
$90K
starting costs
$13.7K
gross margin
40%
time to build
210 days
growth channels
SEO
best tools
Twitter, Tiktok, Instagram
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
35 Pros & Cons
tips
1 Tips
Discover what tools George reccommends to grow your business!
email
seo
other
Discover what books George reccommends to grow your business!
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hey, I’m George Greenhill, the Founder of Protein Package.

I started Protein Package from home aged 17 whilst still at school in Wolverhampton, UK. Protein Package is reinventing the traditional ‘pick and mix’ for the health-conscious snackers of today. We’re an eCommerce business that allows you to mix and match your favorite guilt-free snacks and nutritional supplements.

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Now aged 21 and having run the business for 4 years, we’re well on our way to becoming one of the bigger players in the health foods and supplement industry. We currently offer an unrivaled choice of quality brands at the best prices when you mix and match and the business is growing faster than ever before with more people looking to shop online. For the past four consecutive years, we've experienced over 400% year-over-year (YoY) growth allowing us to just push over the £1million mark in annual turnover.

Whilst there aren't any entrepreneurs in my family or close friends group, I grew up watching business TV shows like the BBC's Dragons Den and The Apprentice, always getting mesmerized by the unique ideas and hard work people put into their businesses and brands to turn them into something they could make a living from.

Other than the school 'pretend' businesses you set up as part of your coursework, this was the first viable idea I had meaning I had little to no knowledge of running a business before starting Protein Package. Our current bestselling range of products sold are protein bars, they're super convenient to take on the go, taste amazing, and offer a brilliant macronutrient profile by keeping carbs, fat, and sugars low. Customers love to be able to mix and match all the best protein bar brands from around the world in one place.

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

After starting to go to the gym, I quickly got the taste for healthy protein snacks and nutritional supplements.

I immediately faced a problem that didn’t have an easy solution. All of the healthy snacks I wanted to eat came as expensive individual products or in large boxes that left me stuck with the same flavor for weeks and weeks. The only other choice was subscribing to fitness snack boxes but they seemed to just include low-quality products and I couldn’t personally pick the flavors I liked or wanted to try. A total nightmare.

Sitting in a maths class, the idea hit me... Protein Package. Why don’t I build an online pick and mix store of protein bars, cookies, powders, low-calorie donuts - everything that makes eating healthily enjoyable.

Using all £300 of my 17th birthday money, I invested it all into our first batch of stock that included Grenade Carb Killa Bars, Battle Snacks Battle Bites and Fulfil Protein Bars.

I didn’t have anywhere near the amount of cash to pay for a website developer with most quotes coming in between £6,000-£15,000. I decided to teach myself to code through free online videos and made use of various online forums to get answers to my questions (trust me, I had a lot!).

If something works then you’re on the right track, just constantly try to better yourself and improve the experience but just get started sooner rather than later, that’s the main thing.

After around three months of going to school in the day followed by spending six hours in the evening building the website through trial and error and sourcing product suppliers, we were ready to go ahead with our launch.

The business idea came completely out of a personal experience and naturally felt like the right thing to do as I believed other people would benefit from having a business like Protein Package available to order from.

The "aha" moment came later on down the line when we'd already started making sales because it validated my preconception that people would enjoy the unique idea of a pick and mix for healthy snacks. Looking back now, I wouldn’t start up a new business without doing thorough market research but at the time and being so young, it was almost just a hunch that I went off and a business that I’ve been able to keep on growing day after day.

Due to the business starting with just £300, I wasn't expecting to see many sales to start with at all, maybe one or two sales every couple of days.

After the first week or so, we'd already doubled the initial £300 investment and turned it into £600 of revenue, £300 of which was profit allowing us to begin expanding the product range. To me personally, it validated the idea that if I could repeat that same growth over and over, we'd be able to scale Protein Package into a fully operational business.

Take us through the process of designing your first product.

In terms of the products, all the goods we stock are produced by other companies and we’re the one-stop shop where people can come to purchase them all in a single place with ease. Before launching Protein Package, the design and prototyping mostly came down to our branding, social media planning, selecting packaging, and building the all-important website.

One moment in the past that sticks out to me is sitting in the living room with my parents surrounded by hundreds of different sample box variations in every shape, size, and color you could imagine that had arrived from all the UK’s leading packaging suppliers.

You’ll make mistakes along the way but if you’re open to being flexible, able to learn from mistakes, and passionate about an idea that others will find value from, I’m sure you’ll make your idea a success.

During the early stages of setting up the business, it consisted mainly of trial and error, seeing which packaging combinations worked together and which suppliers offered the best services based on price.

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Picking a logo sounds like one of the easiest things to do when starting a business but take it from me - it’s not. They represent your brand, need to be easily recognizable, and allow you to build trust with your customers.

We went through every design possible, from box-shaped logos to parachutes, and eventually decided to go with the parachute design to signify our boxes being care packages of protein treats (middle-top) in 2017.

It worked well but in hindsight, it caused us some small conflicts down the line. Firstly, it was quite tall and difficult to fit on our branding and website, some customers thought the parachute was a diamond. Therefore, in 2018, we felt a more simplistic design would improve the brand so we decided to update our logo to the circular one (bottom-right) which is still in place today.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I was quite nervous to launch the company but not so much about the business itself, it was mainly to see the reaction of friends and family who didn't know about the planning I’d been doing in the past 90 days to set up Protein Package.

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Right away, the support from everyone close to me was brilliant. With my first Facebook post, we gained hundreds of shares, likes, and messages of encouragement from family, friends, and even people I’d never met before. I was blown away.

We initially began stocking a small number of the most popular brands due to the constraints of only having £300 to invest in stock. As we started to get sales, day by day, we began to grow our ranges, adding protein donuts, low-calorie pretzels, and energy drinks.

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For the first year, all profits were 100% reinvested into stock and due to still living at home at 17, I was able to avoid taking any money out of the business. The photos above were taken in 2017 showing the first order we ever packed (bottom-right) and the first time we hit 10 and 20 sales in a single day. At this time, everything was a massive milestone and achievement. I remember sitting at home glued to Shopify’s live view (our website host) seeing new customers come onto our online store. Getting a visitor, let alone a sale felt awesome, and when we got our first sale, wow, I couldn't believe it.

Now in 2021, we stock thousands of different products imported from around the world at our new Bridgnorth distribution warehouse.

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

Scaling a business is a tricky process, the three of the key pillars we’ve relied on time and time again are organic social media interactions, search engine optimization (SEO), and direct email marketing.

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When starting Protein Package, Instagram was experiencing an intense period of growth with users around the world migrating to it from Facebook (who owns Instagram). Our products are generally visually appealing when they’re opened up, making Instagram’s free social platform the ideal place to promote our products on.

We quickly racked up around 15,000 Instagram followers and just over 45,000 fans across all our social media channels. We were able to communicate directly with our current customers and anyone looking to potentially order from us in the future showing offers, new launches, and news.

In 2020, I discovered Ahrefs through their YouTube tutorials and began to use their premium software service that’s rated the best in class with SEMRush as a toolset for backlink and technical SEO analysis.

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The software includes a keyword explorer, content viewer, rank tracker, and website audits so that we could target search phrases and build links to pages to improve our search visibility on a platform that gets around 5 billion organic searches per day.

On the Barebells bars for example, by building multiple backlinks from reputable sources, we were able to go from the ranked 12th on Google for the search “Barebells” to 1st place ahead of the brand's page bringing in an extra 7,000 visitors per month. We also managed to bump up our domain rating from around 10 to 37 in the space of six months, boosting our website’s authority compared to similar competitors.

Email is still the bread and butter for marketing. Recent reports show that ‘email generates $42 for every $1 spent, which is an astounding 4,200% ROI, making it one of the most effective options available’ (Litmus, 2021).

For our emails, we use Klaviyo which has a direct integration with Shopify to automatically pull in all of our products. We’ve created plenty of different templates and presets in the software to speed up the process of building the marketing from the ground up which otherwise takes up a lot of time from your day.

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Getting software where you can build templates is something to always look out for and not overlook when picking which service to go with. Being a small family team like us makes it vital to automate as much as possible to reduce the time spent replicating tasks.

Our email marketing is very successful, the Bang Energy Drinks email you can see in the image had a click-through rate of 5.6%, an open rate of 27% and an unsubscribe rate of 0.05% which all fall above the average benchmarks for our industry.

It’s a good idea to always check how your emails are performing against current market benchmarks found online to ensure your audience is responding well and are maintaining interest in your brand messages and new product releases.

We currently have an email subscriber list of 26,000 engaged customers and a combined social media following of 36,000 people that we can easily communicate with to introduce new product ranges and brands. We see sale spikes of around 10% on older products when we launch new ranges due to customers ordering the newer products but also reordering some of their long-standing favorites.

Regarding website statistics, our average time on the website is 2:35 minutes and we have an overall conversion rate of 3.5% which well is above the health food industry average benchmark of 2.2%.

Through working with an advertising company for our Google Shopping campaigns, we're able to generate a new sale for every £4 we invest into shopping ads meaning we're able to break even on every sale due to our profit margins and then make the customer profitable on any repeat purchase. Our average customer lifetime value currently sits at £250.

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

We see the future of Protein Package focused heavily around working with other inspiring brands closely, especially after the recent introduction of our new ‘Behind The Brand’ feature where we delve deep into the background of healthy snack and supplement businesses from around the world. The most recent of which was with Oatein, a UK business whose journey took them to the BBC’s Dragon’s Den TV show.

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The fitness and supplement market growth is not slowing down and is only going in one direction which brings the huge benefits of potential expansion but also the risk of new market entrants so it keeps us on our toes at all times.

Some of the world's biggest snack brands are finally getting involved within the health market such as Mars who recently re-released their famous chocolate bar with an added protein version - I mean, seriously, who doesn’t want a healthy Mars bar - it’s truly an exciting time.

Protein Package currently employs four full-time members of staff excluding myself and we have several part-time employees who help us out during busy periods such as Black Friday and the January return to the gym. One member of staff helps me with marketing, the website, and SEO whilst the other two employees focus on the packaging and distribution side of things. Part-time staff also assist with packaging and logistics too when they're at work through high sales periods.

As covered previously, the single role we outsource is our Google Shopping advertisement campaigns, we handle everything else in-house including fulfillment. The only reason for this is because no matter how much I tried, I could never get the numbers to work financially with Google ads, we'd be spending £40 to get a single sale which isn't viable at all. We started working with CloudCommerce on Google ads back in late 2019 who got our average cost per conversion to £4 and we've never looked back.

Since moving into our new warehouse we’ve been able to place larger volume orders with our suppliers to drive down cost prices - up to 35% in some cases. This is so we can offer the best value to consumers when they pick and mix their selected healthy snacks and supplements. We’ve come a long way since our official launch in 2017 from packaging orders sitting on my bed, moving into the freezing garage, and then expansion to our 3,000 square foot distribution warehouse.

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Another market we’re looking to enter in 2022 is supplementation for gamers and professional e-sports players which is a market experiencing some unimaginable growth that in the future, looks like it will only continue. Therefore, we’ve just started working with GFUEL, an American company to import some of their gaming energy supplements into the UK for the first time and see what uptake is like.

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We’re also opening up a brick and mortar store at the front of the warehouse in the coming months once COVID restrictions are less strict so our local customers can come and have an in-store experience as well as be able to pick up a click and collect orders without needing to pay for shipping charges which on higher weight items like Pre-Workout Powders and Protein Powders can be a little on the pricey side.

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

One of the key parts when starting the business that I underestimated was simply the power of building close working relationships and partnerships with other businesses and people in the industry.

Our new distribution facility has allowed us to decrease delivery times for customers, improve stock level accuracy and bring more great people into our team. At the time, moving the business away from home was a big financial risk but it has let us take the business to the next level.

In the early days at home, we took a big gamble on ordering five pallets of NOCCO Energy Drinks which we were offered at a super low price. It wiped out our cash flow completely for that month but we planned sales meticulously through projections and estimates. Thankfully the stock investment paid off due to Protein Package offering the best price in the whole of the UK – we sold out of five pallets in 74 minutes after sending one email and one Instagram post. This instilled a new belief in me that if your product and price are the best on the market, people will naturally be attracted.

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Developing the website is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done and looking back at the original 2017 site now fills me with horror from glaring display errors to nasty pop-ups but for a business being run out of my bedroom and made by myself - it worked and that’s the main thing. If something works then you’re on the right track, just constantly try to better yourself and improve the experience but just get started sooner rather than later, that’s the main thing.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I’ve selected my three personal favorite software and online tools to discuss that we’ve used over the years to help improve our business, these are Shopify, Pricsync, and Pushowl.

Shopify is a complete eCommerce platform that lets you start, grow, and manage your online business wherever you are in the world. It carries a monthly subscription of around $79. For this price, you’re able to build a website, accept payments and get access to a high-quality backend system to fulfill orders, create customer accounts, and upload products for sale. Shopify has a huge community of experts and developers that you can integrate with through applications to add complex features and web designs to your pages that could only be achieved by a professional coder.

The second tool I would highly recommend is Pricsync. It takes a long time to get set up but once it is, it’s one of the most useful data-driven software I’ve seen. Online giants like Amazon adjust their prices constantly to be the most competitive and maximize profits, so why shouldn’t small businesses do the same? That’s exactly what the awesome team has built for you at Prisync.

The basic premise is that it pulls your products from Shopify and you add the competitor's URL links of product pages they also stock. The software analyzes your price against every competitor and then based on your cost price, it suggests the optimal sale price equilibrium between sales quantity and profitability. You can take this one step further by allowing the algorithm to manually update prices for you at multiple intervals throughout the day just like all the online giants do with hyper-competitive ranges like protein bars.

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Finally, Pushowl is a web push notifications system that allows you to send notifications to customers' laptops and phones like you get from apps such as Facebook. After a customer signs up, you’re able to quickly send restock notifications, updates and promote recent blog posts without needing to build time-consuming emails.

Simply add an image, a short description, hit send, and boom, it’s instant traffic to your website. With everyone carrying mobile devices, you can easily target them whilst away from their home computers.

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

Books and podcasts (other than The Joe Rogan Experience) aren’t my cups of tea.

Most of my influence and learning over the years has come from YouTube videos, online entrepreneurial forums, and free online courses. They’re a brilliant way to learn new skills, broaden your horizons and get you to think from a different perspective. Best of all, these online resources are generally low cost and you can go at your pace.

One of my favorite resources is Ahrefs SEO Tutorial series, this enabled us to take full control of our search engine optimization, pushing us towards the top of organic searches and boosting our website traffic. I mean, what more could you ask for? It requires a short amount of time and willingness to learn but you get a free in-depth course that’s actionable to discover how to gain free website traffic and, nothing beats free.

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

For anyone unsure about whether to start a business, the best advice I could ever give someone would be - just go for it! I started this when I’d just turned 17, there were endless amounts of information that I didn’t know or have any experience with. You’ll make mistakes along the way but if you’re open to being flexible, able to learn from mistakes, and passionate about an idea that others will find value from, I’m sure you’ll make your idea a success.

Over social media, you see a lot of these ‘get rich quick’ advertisements for starting businesses, especially in the online or eCommerce sector. If this is a mindset you have, I think you should completely change that before you get started, when you’re working for yourself or just starting, nobody’s going to do the mundane, repetitive tasks like copying thousands of your competitor’s page links so you can analyze your pricing. You’ll need to be prepared to put in the long hours, whether it be after school, university or work.

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Make use of the free tutorials on YouTube to teach yourself how to grow a social media following, improve your website SEO, or do whatever you feel you need to get clued upon. Don’t take it from me, look at what the current richest person in the world says.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes! We’re currently looking for part-time warehouse assistants to join our ever-expanding team. The role will be based in Bridgnorth, United Kingdom. For more details, please email [email protected].

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
George Greenhill, Founder of Protein Package
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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