This is a follow up story for Vitaeglass. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey guys, I’m Gordon Loi the founder of VITAE Glass, a modular bong company that allows you to build and customize your unique bongs. You can think of us as the LEGO of bongs, with interchangeable pieces and endless combination possibilities.
The majority of bongs have mostly been large, single pieces of glass that were fragile and difficult to clean. We took this age-old design and re-engineered it to be modular, so that it’s now easier to clean, transport, and be replaceable if you ever break it apart.
We launched on April 20 of 2019 and currently serve the growing legal cannabis market in the US and Canada. We have seen growing demand from all around the world so we’re aiming to have distribution centers in Europe and Australia within the coming 3 years.
Fun fact about our company. Ever since we officially launched, we have been doing everything remotely. Martin, our co-founder used to be in San Francisco but now is in LA and I’m in Hong Kong, while our original base and inventory still ship out of San Francisco.
Although the 2 key members of the team are thousands of miles apart, with one part-time employee, we continue to run the business remotely with over 200% growth in the last year and a half.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
We started with just $3,000/ month in sales when we first launched in 2019. After 2 years, I am happy to see a 10x increment in our monthly sales and it’s still growing.
In 2020, we were focused on SEO and quality blogs, and it took our sales to another level. With higher google page rankings, this helped bring in a lot more traffic to the site. Although SEO is pricey for a young startup ( 30% of our monthly revenue went to SEO), it was still worth it since it doubled our traffic, therefore doubling our sales. Our traffic grew from 7000 to 12000 visitors per month within 6 months thanks to SEO.
The second half of our growth came from these 2 partnerships.
With limitations in ad spending for the cannabis sector, we were lucky enough to find Safe-Reach, a cannabis-friendly ad company that helped us implement retargeting ads. We spend between $1-1.5K a month and see an average of 3-4X ROI for these. Retargeting your online customers is critical since they have been to your site already. If you’re an e-commerce company and do not implement retargeting ads, we highly recommend you do so. It’s money left on the table if you don’t.
The remaining growth is all thanks to an affiliate partnership with Herb Magazine, which has featured in one of their top-performing blogs “A Complete Guide Of The Best Bongs On The Market In 2021”. This blog ranks #1 on the google search page, not an easy feat but we’re so glad to be on there.
This is a great way to get new traffic and sales for your business. Unlike retargeting ads, with affiliate partnerships, you only have to pay once a sale is made. This is the best win-win partnership that I have seen so far with a 5-6x ROI. Most magazine sites will charge you to be published, however, if you’re able to work out an affiliate deal with them, it can be very lucrative for both parties.
In 2021, we stopped our SEO campaigns, IG, and Youtube marketing but still saw consistent growth. The only explanation would be that word of mouth is doing its job as more users are sharing their experiences with their friends.
The growth is not as fast as before but we’re not too worried. Every month now is better than the last, unless we sell out, which happens pretty often. It’s a good problem to have though and it serves as a reminder that there are so many people that want your products. It’s just a matter of trying to catch up with demands now.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
In our 2019-2020 years, we relied heavily on Instagram and Youtube to get the word out. However, in 2021, we dialed this back a lot but still saw traffic growth. We went from posting 5-6 times a week to only 1-2 times every 2 weeks. This saved us a lot of time on things that didn’t “matter” as much so we could focus on other aspects of the business. Engaging on social media is a huge time consumer, averaging 2-4 hours a day. It is great at first, but as you get busier and more established, this can be dialed down without it having a drastic impact on your sales. (Varies based on business model)
In early 2021, we had a look at our blogs which had a high bounce rate of over 95%. We knew it brought in traffic but not so much in direct sales since most users leave afterward. So we decided to hide the blogs for a month and see what would happen. Immediately our traffic dropped by 50% over the next 3 weeks. This was a big scare for us since sales are directly correlated to traffic flow. We put the blogs back as active and luckily, traffic healed back to normal levels in the next 7 days. We lost a lot of sales, but it was better to have learned now than later.
Even though the blogs do not generate direct sales themselves, they do contribute to our overall traffic and the health of our site's ranking. It was a risky test but well worth the lesson learned. A good tip is to always work with an SEO expert. Since we didn't have one in 2021, we found out the hard way.
With retargeting ads, testing is needed to find the optimal investment amount. Even though the ROI is around 4x, more spending does not necessarily mean more sales. You need to test these out as it varies from month to month. Some months we spend more on ad spend but had fewer conversions than the previous month where we spent less. So it is not always “more is better” since the ROI does not always follow through. Do your testing to see which is the optimal ad spend that works best for your industry.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We have been working hard this year to bring a newer version of our glass to market which would help us transition from a B2C company to one that is B2B as well. With wholesale options possible, we can expand to multiple countries and increase our annual revenue by at least 3 - 4x in the US alone. We are very excited to offer wholesale and spread our brand across the different continents.
With the new version ready, we will be able to offer more designs and variations to a larger group of customers. Our wholesale will help fuel our new designs by allowing us to prepare a large number of pre-ordered items upfront. This would make offering more designs more feasible and not have to worry about overstocking.
Once we have wholesale up and running, we expect to hit our first annual sales figure of that illustrious 7 figures. This would be a great achievement for us and can’t wait to reach that milestone.
Growth takes time and the best part about it is, that you get to set your milestones at your own pace.
Within the next 5 years, we aim to be in at least Europe, Australia, South America, and possibly my home country, South Africa too.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
The book that has had the most impact is - 4-hour workweek by Timothy Ferriss. As the name of the book goes, the goal is to work 4 hours a week only, which is great if you can pull it off. What I took most away from it is, how to allocate and prioritize your time. One thing this book helped me do is to check my emails less frequently, I mean a lot less.
I used to check my emails multiple times a day. Now I limit it to 1 - 2 times a day only. Some weeks I will even let it run 2 - 3 days before checking it. It’s a wonder how much more time is saved just by doing that 1 thing. Be sure to have systems in place that allow you to do this though or else it could backfire.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Running a business is challenging and is not for everyone. You need to assess yourself to see if this path is for you or not. When we were just about to launch, upon my flight back to San Francisco from a recent factory trip, I was suddenly denied entry into the US and had to run things all remotely. I wasn’t even able to go back to my apartment to pack any of my personal belongings. It would be at least 3-5 years before I’d be able to re-enter the US. I could have just dropped the whole thing then and there, but being persistent and having a strong belief in my goals, I carried on.
There will be times of doubts, despair, and moments you want to give up. If you can get past those moments, you will live to fight another month. Excuses are just an easy way out, if you let the excuses win, then you have already failed yourself and your business.
Business is a long journey, so there is no rush to make it big all at once. Growth takes time and the best part about it is, that you get to set your milestones at your own pace. Don’t feel pressured to reach lofty goals just because others are. Your business is unique to you and your team’s capabilities. Know what is realistic and what is not.
Last but not least, you’re never too old to learn something, so never stop learning!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently looking for a part-time warehouse manager, preferably located in the San Francisco Bay area. Must be organized and self-dependent. Please contact me if you’re interested.
Where can we go to learn more?
- If you have any questions, I can be reached directly at [email protected]
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