From an employee to becoming his own boss, Brandon Mackie has turned his passion and expertise in eCommerce to get to where he is right now. Brandon has proved that he definitely has what it takes to earn seven figures from Amazon sales.
Brandon Mackie was a corporate employee looking for a sign to quit his job. With the help of his friend and now co-founder, he launched Keto Farms. Brandon took advantage of their email list to boost their Amazon sales. With external traffic, their Amazon sales rose dramatically. Their business became one of the pioneers in producing keto-friendly foods.
In this episode, Brandon shares his journey towards reaching seven-figure sales. He emphasizes the power of algorithms to increase the searchability of his products. Through their strategy, his products became more visible online.
Tune in to this episode to learn more about Brandon’s journey towards increasing his company’s Amazon sales!
Click here to read transcript
[03:11] So for the folks in my audience who maybe don’t know who you are. Let’s start there. Who are you? And what does your company make and sell?
- Yes, so I’m Brandon. I’m the founder of our company called Keto Farms. So very simply, we sell keto friendly, ultra flavorful and delicious snacks primarily on Amazon. And our customers who are following a keto or low-carb approach who miss a lot of their favorite snacks, they miss all the sweets, and extra salty chips, Doritos, things like that. We attempt to recreate those old classics in a way that, without sugar without carbs, and a lot better for you. And that’s kind of how we built our business, primarily on e-commerce.
[03:54 So When did you start the business and where are you at today in terms of revenue or number of bags of chips sold or certain number of products sold or just some kind of easy to understand metric?
- Sure, yeah. So we started the business in about May 2018. So we’re coming up on three years. And a lot of false starts, failed products, but stumbled our way into, position the brand around snacks and weather the COVID storm, and coming up into 2021, we’re approaching that million dollar run rate on e-commerce. So it’s been it’s been quite the journey.
[04:34] Annual run rate of the million?
- Thank you, yes, annualize, yes.
[04:39] How many people does it take to run a small million-dollar brand like yourself? Is it just you, just a skeleton crew?
- Yeah, so we are a lean and mean operation. I’m the only full time employee and really have a desire to keep it that way. I’ve really enjoyed this process of outsourcing, it’s something I’d read about years ago with Tim Ferriss in his book, and fun to make it a reality. So we’ve got myself and maybe five to six outsourced resources, from, you know, a domestic kind of outsourced ops team, to your more conventional VA is overseas or helping out with administration, customer service, all that fun stuff.
[05:24] Okay, so the first takeaway that I want to get for the audience that’s listening, they’re saying, hey, this guy’s got a million dollar business. He’s basically running it with himself. Obviously, capital for inventory, and some advertising and so forth, and a small crew. Are you able to be profitable and pay for your life at a million bucks?
- Yes, the business is profitable, and I am taking a reasonable salary. It’s not a salary that I could go travel the world or buy California real estate with, but it’s something that’s really kind of freed up my life and been really fulfilling to, even in a capital-intensive business like this, this isn’t software or, or media, we’ve been able to make it will work. It took a little bit to get there. But we got there about middle of last year, we turned profitable.
[06:12] Okay, so let’s start to unpack now that the audience understands what you’ve accomplished. Let’s start to unpack how you got to where you’re at. So we can dig into some golden nuggets, hopefully, that they’ll be able to use and implement in their businesses, and then they will talk a little bit about some of your plans for the next few quarters or next year. Things that you’re going to be working on. So how did you come up with the idea for the product? Was it inspiration? Was it perspiration? Was it a bunch of experiments and micro tests and focus groups? Where did, because a lot of people really, really struggle with how do I come up with an idea for a product.
- Yeah, I mean, it kind of all happened by accident. It started with a gentlemen’s agreement with my business partner late after work. We were working at a startup, more of a corporate type of startup and have grown a lot of VC capital and executive team. And we just had a gentleman’s agreement to work on a product together. And the keto diet was a natural place to go because he had been on it for a few years, he got me onto it earlier. And just in our own experience, we had so many ideas of man, this is a really hard diet to follow, it’d be a lot easier if X existed, or Y existed. We could see on Amazon, the trends, it just seemed like right place, right time.
We had so much energy, we quit our jobs without really much of a plan. I don’t know if that was the right decision, looking back on it, but it happened and we were into it. And then that’s a really interesting feeling. Because you kind of have to figure it out. It’s a bit of that do or die survival mentality that where, if you don’t have that, you can keep pushing it off. And maybe a lot of your listeners have ideas or dreams. And sometimes it takes a little bit of a little bit of that fire to get you going. But we found a way to make it work, kind of iterating each step along the way. And so—
[08:02] I did want to jump in there for a minute because I do think there’s, that’s a takeover takeaway I don’t want to glaze over. Because I did what you did, when I made the transition as well: I quit my job, I sold my house, I liquidated my investments, I was 100% committed. And the safer approach, no doubt, is to do your side hustle until the income of your side hustle passes your main job, and then you can easily transition from one to the other.
But here’s the problem, and I’m speaking not to you but to the audience in particular, and you can chime in. When you’re trying to do two full time jobs, it’s exhausting. How do you find the time and just like you said, it’s easy to put it off, it’s easy to leave it for another day. The one thing that I do want some people to think about is that I’m not necessarily endorsing quitting your job if you haven’t even done any micro tests or any market validation or anything. You must have had some idea no, and you can chime in in a second. But you’ve got to create one time in your schedule. And two, you’ve got to have the commitment that like hey, I’m burning the bridges because this is the path that I’m taking. So I don’t know how that will land for the audience. That probably scares the hell out of a bunch of people. But for, in some situations, I think it’s the only way to go. So in your situation, did you have, did you guys do this as a side hustle for a while? What was a while? What was the indicator that’s triggered in your mind like hey, it’s time to jump off the bridge?
- Yeah, you know, we didn’t do those micro tests that you’re talking about. And I would certainly advise anyone listening to to definitely do that before you quit. But I think there’s a difference between that and then doing micro tests for five years on end. One thing that gave us confidence is honestly, we had a lot of experience with e-commerce, Amazon in particular, and we could just see the trends. In the category, we’re going after the keto diet, in particular, it was growing so fast. And at one point, you know, in 2018, keto was a top 250 search term on Amazon, if you think about TV, and toilet paper, just the word keto being in that. And so we had this mentality that with this much opportunity, like we could fail so many different products, and they’re, you know, all we would need is, and we did the math, X amount of units per day at X margin, creates X dollars of disposable income. And the numbers didn’t seem that scary, particularly if you think about how big the category was. So that was kind of what gave us a little bit of confidence to say, there’s something here and we can figure it out. And so maybe that’s all it takes to just get a little bit of confidence and have that small number to reach to you don’t have to build a $10 million business to be able to free yourself from your day job. And that’s certainly what we’ve learned along the way.
[10:52] No, you don’t. So you said it was 250th most popular search term. What app did you use to get that data?
- internally, we had a couple different tools. I don’t remember the name, but the one I use today with our own businesses is Helium 10. It’s a really good tool, low entry cost and really great platform to get an understanding for you going after, is there an opportunity here? What’s the competitive landscape? And—
[11:22] Okay, so let’s talk about bringing a product to market. Walk me through. So you’ve, you’ve got this idea, you think, well, I’m going to, and it actually let me back up just a little bit. How many products did you attempt to launch before you got one that started to get enough traction that you thought, okay, well, that one’s going to keep going, versus the ones where you tried, they failed, and you basically gave up and ate it on the inventory? No pun intended, because yours is edible, but you get the idea, but just scrapped it?
- Yeah, it’s, it was about two products that didn’t really do so great before we landed on one, and we actually started out just making it in our kitchen. It’s interesting in the food business, Amazon, or any retailer wants you to produce it at a professional facility or have your own certified facility. But to sell on your own website, you can do so through ‘no, it’s a cottage kitchen’ type of operation, and we did that. Our first product was an instant coffee and matcha that had the fat, powdered fats in there, like a bulletproof coffee that you would just add hot water. It was really delicious, but just not the right price point or the right offering. And so we spun our wheels for about a year with that.
And then early 2019, we launched this keto snack mix concept. And you could see right away, even though the numbers weren’t big, that snacks had a much higher take rate than the powder beverage. And we really started to say, maybe there’s something here in snacks, maybe that’s a big thing that’s missing for people following the diet, and it’s true. If you can stay at home and cook all your own food. It’s an easy diet to follow. But snacks was a big missing thing. That’s where we just started to like, get the feedback, iterate, and we really built our whole business almost off that one product line. Only last year, kind of in the midst of COVID did we launch a second product line, which is actually done really well for us now.
[13:20] So the snack, how did you manufacture the very first run? Did you do any market tests beforehand? Did you launch it on your site, or did you launch it on Amazon? I realized that’s a whole bunch of questions. But you can—
- Yeah, it’s interesting. This all described the way we did it, which is not the way that I would counsel the listeners to do it. But our approach was generally to have fun in the kitchen and just work with novel ingredients and see what we could come up with. If we made something that we thought was fun and exciting and flavorful and unique, we went to market with that. I say that has pros and cons. The pro is, it’s unique. Your market size is one, you’re the first one. We were the first keto trail mix. I was just in Costco last week and I saw a copycat keto trail mix, so I guess that’s a little bit flattering. But at the time, there was really no market demand for what we were creating, so that’s the con right, is like you don’t, it’s not something like keto cereal. There are thousands of thousands of people searching, desperately needed something like that.
Maybe we would have had earlier success, but that was our approach. I think, while it made results slower in the short term of having to educate, “Hey, this is what this product is. It’s kind of like a burrito, but not really,” it also built a lot of brand value. I think consumers started this yes, as, a little bit unique, innovative, they’re always coming up with interesting stuff. I think over the long term, it’s benefited our brand well, although in the short-term, if we had made a cereal, maybe we would have gotten to a million dollars a little faster.
[15:22] And you launched this keto trail mix on Amazon or on your own site?
- It was on our own site, and just looking at a few orders a day kind of thing. But you could already see is bigger than our coffee or matcha, and then July of 2019, is when we saw about a year after we started, is when we launched onto Amazon, and we moved into, we rented some space in South LA, and manufactured the product ourselves and use that as a platform.
[15:25] Okay, so let’s not get to the Amazon portion of the story yet. So launching on your own site, what are you doing, you’re buying fake traffic off of Facebook or Instagram, something like that?
- The biggest thing that worked for us was influencers on Instagram. We would just reach out being really authentic, here’s who we are, we’d love to share what we’ve made with you guys. People responded really well to that. And it was great because, you know, it’s a much cheaper source of traffic. And that was kind of the initial use to build out the email list and kind of get ready for additional channels, which I’m sure we’ll get to on Amazon.
[16:02] Okay, so this influencer marketing, you’re basically, “Hey, we’re these guys, we got this start-up, it’s a really yummy thing. Let me send you a sample of the really yummy thing, and if you think it’s a really yummy thing, then you can tell your flock about it.” And how did you comp them? Did you give them affiliate commissions? Did you pay them a flat fee? Were they doing out of the goodness of their heart?
- We did some affiliate. But I was personally amazed how many people just did it, the kind of kindness of their own art. It’s kind of a psychological principle of reciprocity. If you give somebody something just with nothing, asking for nothing, it’s amazing how many times someone will respond in kind. We were self-funded business, we didn’t have a big marketing budget. And I was amazed just to see how often that strategy was effective. So we continue down that path, layering and affiliate to really capitalize on the best and best advocates and most prominent influencers.
[16:57] Okay, so successful launch, relatively speaking with the influencer approach traffic to your own site, you’re building an email list and one day comes along, and you think, okay, now it’s time for us to launch this on Amazon. At that point in time, how big was the email list? 1,000 people 2000 people or was it what?
- That was about, I would say, between 5,000-6,000.
[17:18] So now you put up your product listing on Amazon. Walk me through what happens from you know, you hit Publish, nobody knows it exists, You have no reviews, you have no traction, no organic ranking, nothing. What happened? How did you make stuff happen?
- Yeah, so essentially, what we did is, yeah, we put it up. And I was just so excited to like, start to see the numbers go up and up. But of course, you know, you listed, it’s crickets, no one can see it. So there was a little bit of that period of disappointment. But we very quickly realized that our email list was kind of the best asset that we had. And all we had to do was give people a really juicy offer to go out and buy it. And I think we did something like a buy one, get one free type of thing, like a really juicy one now like a 10% discount, but really juicy offer, and just asked, hey, we’re on Amazon, we would love it if you guys leave a review, if you have a good experience of the product.
Obviously, that’s a fine line to walk with the terms of service. But we did all we could to promote it, and we were amazed. Again, that email list probably turned into our first 100 5-star reviews, got the velocity crank and and then from there, I’m sure many of your listeners where the flywheel can really take hold. And that was really exciting to watch that kind of go from nothing to all of a sudden, you know, 10, 20, 30, 40 sales a day, all the way up to where we are now.
[18:50] So that’s pretty cool. So your email list? Did you buy any sponsored traffic on Amazon sponsored ads? Or was it basically the sales velocity? Because I know that’s one of the biggest indicators of biggest influencers or signals that influences the a nine algorithm is your sales velocity, and then you’re going to start to rank higher organically based on the sales velocity. So am I to understand that you basically juiced this thing with your email list. And maybe you sent out a series of emails over a couple of weeks or maybe it was one email, I’m sure you’ll tell me in a second. But that was the thing that started the flywheel and then the a nine algorithm kind of took it from there and you started to rank organically. Is it that simple?
- Yeah, yeah. It’s on Amazon. The differentiating factor between kind of traffic on platform, which is paid with PPC and external traffic, and Amazon loves external traffic, and they will really reward you for that. And maybe you’re gonna ask us, maybe not, but it was at that point, we did something kind of crazy. We actually turned off our D-to-C, the ability to purchase on our own website, and send all of our own website over to Amazon, the idea being, as I mentioned earlier, the category is huge, is becoming more competitive. We figured, as a small brand, we needed all the so-called juice that we could get. Once we did that, and I can talk about it in a second, it was amazing the search rank results that we were able to get, given the brand and how small we were. And so I think, if your audience is listening, external traffic was a huge, huge factor for us in our success on Amazon, and one that we’d advise others not to shy away from.
[20:34] Yeah, I’ve interviewed a lot of founders running, you know, brand micro brands like yourself, and it’s a really mixed bag and people, some of them think, no, no, no, I want to do it all on my D-to-C site, because I want the email list and I want the extra margin. But I think what they’re failing to grasp, is just the magnitude of traffic that is available on Amazon, that in like, in your case, you just said was basically free. As soon as you started to stimulate the algorithm with sales, the algorithm took over and started to show your product to all sorts of people at no cost to you. And I’m going to guess, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but the money, the profit that that generated is probably far in excess of what you could have generated if you’re buying ads sending traffic to your own site. Is that the case?
- I have to believe it’s many multiples of that. We haven’t done the calculation. But yeah, it’s probably 3-5 times what we would have made, continuing done on the DST strategy.
[21:36] Okay. So now, there’s a strategic decision to be made, and that decision is, if I’m, if you’re building your company, to maximize cash flow, it appears that giving a heavy preference to the Amazon channel is the way to go. However, if you’re building your company to maximize enterprise value, and sustainability, it might seem as though that diversifying from just Amazon into a mix of Amazon and your own site so that you can build your email list and so that you can build your social presence and so that you can do upsells and cross-sells and other things maybe that are not so easy to do on Amazon would be the way to go. Have you given much thought to that yet, or are you thinking nope, I’m just we’re just Amazon right now, because we’re still pretty small?
- Yeah, it’s funny you asked, it’s something that’s really been on our minds in the last couple months. Sometimes this printer he gets. So heads, these big strategic things come up you, you kind of just know when it’s time to really think about these things. And I think Amazon’s been great to us. But there’s no question that if you build an email list, and then you just stop building it, and you just keep harvesting it, they continue to drive success on Amazon with product X, Y, Z and so forth. Eventually, that email list may get stale. And you might say, Man, it would really benefit to have a fresh batch of people coming in or now when we had this email list, we only had one product now we have 10 products, think of all these new offers that we could give to people.
And suddenly what was true maybe a year and a half ago becomes not so true now. So we are actively thinking about reviving the D-to-C and, and also on top of that diversifying into retail, which again, might be surprising to some listeners, but you know, our brand staff products. If you think about where snacks are sold, while e-commerce is growing, you know, I have to imagine 95% of stacks are still sold in brick and mortar, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods. And that’s something we’re actively exploring. And again, it’s interesting that that more traditional model can now get a lot more interesting because if you have proof points on Amazon, you can have an easier time getting into retail and kind of convincing retailers to take a bet on you because you can say hey, it’s already been validated. Here’s the reviews and ratings to support it.
[24:03] So some friends of mine here in Boise are the founders of a company called Saalt. It’s a female menstruation cup. And one of the things that I learned from them is this so they put a great deal of effort into their packaging. They went and hired like literally one of the best packaging design firms in the world. And spent, I think $75,000 on packaging, but you know what, now they’re in Target. And now they’re here, and now they’re doing 600,000 a month I think, on Amazon, if you pull up the Jungle Scout report. It was literally a game changer for them.
Target told them, “The reason you are in our stores is because your packaging, design, everything was amazing.” Because there’s other menstrual cups that are out there, it’s a rubber cup. It’s nothing, there’s nothing rocket science about a menstrual cup. So in looking at your packaging, is this, how many iterations have you done? Have you thought about, if you’re trying to get into brick and mortar, what your differentiator’s going to be in this packaging, what are the things that made it onto your radar screen?
- Absolutely. So that packaging is an interesting story. We actually did that internally. My business partner who is not a designer previously, and isn’t really one now, did that. It’s just a passion project and something that he had deep desire to go do. So we had some fun with it. But is it the most professional thing, by any means? I would, we would say no. So now that we’re thinking about retail, we’re starting to look back on that decision saying, wow, man, if we had had 50 grand to do it up front, would we go back and do it? Probably. What we’re thinking about now is really going out and you know, potentially raising the money, or at least investing in a professional packaging redesign. Because in retail, you don’t have your product, you don’t have your PDP, you don’t have PPC, you don’t have YouTube videos to talk to somebody. The only thing that’s going to sell your product in the retail environment is the packaging. And so we— Go ahead.
[26:14] To get the money, have you thought of doing crowdsourcing?
- Um, we haven’t thought too much about it. Most of what we’ve needed so far, we’ve been able to get with relatively inexpensive debt financing for working capital. But this would be more of a growth-type investment to really look at redesigning the packaging. Yeah, I think we’re open to that. Obviously, there’s always the traditional kind of VC, angel investors that could potentially—
[26:44] So there’s another interview that I did, and I’m just going to try and pull it up. You and anyone else who is interested in the idea of accelerating using crowdfunding sheets. This guy was, yeah, it’s episode number 289. So brightideas.co/289, fellow by the name of Colin Macintosh, we launched a company called Sheets and Giggles. And he makes sheets out of eucalyptus or some weird thing. Anyway, of all of the interviews I’ve done, his go to market strategy was, a bootstrap like you guys, was probably the most data-driven and brilliant that I’ve ever heard of. So I encourage you to check it out. Because I’m sure that you will pick up some very actionable golden nuggets on things that you could do in this regard to maybe help you to finance your foray into better packaging.
- That’s awesome. It’s a great brand name, too.
[27:44] Yeah, it is. Sheets and Giggles. Connotates all sorts of things. So yep, you have made a change recently in, and this isn’t so much e-commerce. But I do want to bring this up, because I think it’s a profound change, and that’s how you’re manufacturing your product. You want to tell us about that?
- Yeah, so early on, as I mentioned, we were self-manufacturing, starting out in the kitchen. The traditional route in our world is you do that for a little bit. And then you hire a third party. Co-packers are called to go out, make the product professionally, and you stay focused on marketing and branding and product development. We had one really bad experience with a co-packer: they delayed us six months, they lost our inventory. It was a disaster. It was so bad that we wrote off co-packing as a discipline, and we said we’re gonna make it ourselves, and we’re gonna order some inexpensive equipment from Alibaba and China, we’re going to rent a small space in LA, and we’re going to produce a product at scale. And really, that was a big advantage early on, because we could very quickly react to market feedback. So we launched a flavor, someone doesn’t like on Amazon, we can be in there the next day, iterating, sending another week supply an Amazon. With a co Packer you could never do that. And so that took our products from okay, decently flavored, interesting niche-type of products to something that was really sensational, and drove 4.6 rating, and now almost 2500 reviews on Amazon.
So that was very strategic; obviously allowed us to operate efficiently,because we didn’t have to pay the manufacturing polling fees, that was cheaper. It was our own labor and our own equipment, fit for our needs. But then, of course, like every business decision, what turns out as a great idea originally, quickly becomes a bad idea when you’re getting up at four in the morning, and you’re scrambling to think, “Hey, we need to hire somebody to help us. But we don’t even have time to do that. Because we’re running out of stock on Amazon, we just need to run this machine around the clock to even just keep up with demand. We don’t have any time for sales or marketing or anything else. We’re just professional laborers now.” That was the point where last year, we had to reevaluate that and do it right, this time. Spin out to a co-packer, find the right partner, give them all that kind of SOPs and processed to set them up for success. And that’s been really successful for us, and proves that you can’t write something off just because of one bad experience.
[30:22] Yeah, but I think the lesson the takeaway there, Brandon is, I think it was important that you manufactured for yourself for a while, because you needed to be nimble. If you had gone the co-packer wrote from the get go, you probably would have had to spend a lot more money in inventory, and some of it wouldn’t have been any good. And then that’s labor money can’t recover. And this mean, you described it, this allowed you, it was, it sounds to me like it was exactly the right decision for that phase in the company’s lifecycle. But now you’re in a different phase, and somebody can make a new decision. And this is this, you know, we as founders and entrepreneurs, we’re basically professional problem solvers, are we not?
- Yeah, I would, I would agree with that. You just have to look back at, with the situation you were in the data you had at the time, did you make the right decision? I think, absolutely, we did. Maybe we’re a few months later than we should have been spinning out to the co-packer. But it’s, everything kind of happened as it should. And I feel like we’re in a good spot now, scaling with them, and really able to focus back on product development. We just launched, you know, six skews in the last 30 days. And I think it’s new relationship is a big reason why we’re able to make that happen.
[31:39] So at this point, now that you’re in a million dollar run rate, are you being approached by investors saying, hey, I want to put money into your company? Are you on those radar screens? And if you’re not, have you thought of raising money to accelerate the growth?
- Yeah, we’ve gotten interest, really two fronts there, there’s that front. And then honestly, with COVID and e-commerce, it’s brought a lot of money into this space, and we’ve been approached to sell the company outright. Even at our small size, there’s a lot appetite. Given all the trends in e-commerce, and we’ve explored that. But we keep coming back to this, this idea that maybe we’re probably a little bit early for that. We, our best days are yet to come. We’re just taking it one day at a time. I think for us, we really want to understand what is the retail opportunity, and as you mentioned earlier, what is that kind of packaging? Or if it’s a rebranding exercise, what does that look like? And if we get good feedback from the market, this is what it’s going to take the fan distribution that way. I think that’s the point where we go out and raise some money and really go for it.
[32:46] So one of the guys that I interviewed, when he’s been on my show a few times, his name is Rand Fishkin. He was the founder of Moz. Now, he’s the founder of a company called SparkToro, which is a really cool tool for figuring out a lot of information about your target audience. And then you would actually, I think, find it quite valuable for figuring out who they follow and where they are. I’ve never seen another tool that provides the data. But that’s not why I bring it up.
Why I bring this up is he raised money for his company using what is now known as the SparkToro funding method, and he actually open-sourced all his documentation. So just another resource for you, or any of the listeners. If you just Google the phrase “SparkToro”, that’s “Spark”, and then the word T-O-R-O, SparkToro funding, it’ll take you right to a blog post explains the whole thing. He raised $1.3 million and was able to retain total and complete control of his company, despite losing that money.
And I know that that myself included, that’s one of my biggest reservations. I’m right now in the middle of toying with, should I raise money for my own software company? Because, boy, oh boy, we could use it because we’re really understaffed. So hopefully, for you and for the audience, that would be another valuable resource. The, it’s funny that you mentioned you know, the offers to sell out right? There’s a whole army of what we call FBA aggregators, many of whom have been on my show. They’ve raised a bunch of money.
I would venture to guess that whoever offered, approached you has probably been on my show, because I interviewed the very biggest ones. And I agree with your decision. I haven’t sold a company myself, but not getting like yeah, it was a seven figure exit. It was over a million dollars, but it wasn’t enough money that I didn’t need to work anymore. And so then you’re faced with this challenge of, oh, wow, I’ve after you pay your taxes, and you pay your lawyers and you pay this and you pay that, your 700,000, 800,000 900,000, whatever. But maybe it’s even a million and a half. But then you got to go start all over again. And right now you have the wind in your sails, and you have something that’s working, I would ride that for as long as humanly possible until you get to the point —far be it for me to give you advice that you did not ask for, by the way— but for as long as possible until you could have an exit, where you could, you know, at least in my books, buy enough real estate that I don’t have to work ever again, if I don’t want to, because that’s a whole different place to be.
Having had an exit thinking, I’m gonna get $1.2 million, which I did, and it was great. It was a lot of hard work again, to get, to spool up. And then there’s a lot during that trough after you sell, you know, you don’t have any income. So you’re spending that money that you got. And yeah—
- It goes fast.
[35:37] It does go fast. Very quickly. Yes. So before we wrap up, Brandon, if you were interviewing yourself, because you have untold amounts of stories and knowledge in your head, to make this interview as valuable as possible, and hopefully, it’s been really valuable already. Folks, if it has, I’d love it if you’d leave a review on iTunes. Is there anything else that you would ask yourself to to expose a story and experience or a lesson that you would like the audience to know?
- Um, I think I would ask myself, and I keep coming back to this, is the decision to quit my day job and really go for it is, I know, and it’s kind of cliche, but I really come back to it a lot of this decision, like, if you’re on your deathbed, would you have regretted never going for it or never trying? And I think I could even obviously take that question back to the decision to start the company and take the plunge. But also even to maybe sell it early versus like really go and continue to grow it, like you just described. It’s a framework that’s really helped me with the decision-making process and realizing that the downside is usually a lot less than you think it is. You’re not going to end up dead on the streets if you just go out and go for it. And so if there’s anyone listening, that’s going with an idea, or toying with entrepreneurship, I think that’s a good framework that I’ve asked myself, and it could be helpful for others that are, are looking for that little bit of a nudge to go for it.
[37:18] So you have, let me ask you this, then to wrap up, you have a very small company, million dollars, yours, not a lot of revenue, but it’s still pretty good. I mean, tip of the hat to you. Is your life more enjoyable now, as the founder slash sole guy running this thing, versus back when you’re an employee?
- I would say absolutely. It’s my happiness has gone up dramatically. Now, there were a couple tough years starting out fear of failure. I don’t want to downplay that at all. But I have been really happy. And really now, the frame of mind is, I’m really happy doing this. And if I feel unhappy at all, it’s because we’re not successful enough. A million dollars is still a small number. People on Amazon are doing this, that and the other, and we’re getting left behind. But I find those to be more easily manageable challenges and feelings than, I’m working at a corporate job, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I want to do. Those are much more difficult, personal struggles to reason through then, kind of where I feel I’m at now. And I think those are all easily achievable if we’re doing the best we can, we’re gonna keep growing. And hopefully we can make the business successful enough to have a meaningful impact in our lives.
[38:39] I have no doubt that if you can build a business from nothing in your kitchen to a million dollar run rate, you can also get it to five or to 10 million. It’s just a matter of time and execution and team building. And I really tip my hat to you, Brandon, what you’ve accomplished is absolutely amazing. If you, folks, if you want to sample his stuff, it’s at ketofarms.com. I don’t remember if we asked you but do you have a promo code for my audience? And if you don’t, if you don’t have one now we can put one in the show notes if you want to.
- Yeah, we Yeah, we do. It’s very, very easy to remember, it’s just KETOFARMS in all caps on Amazon. And that’ll get you 15% off. We’ve got a line of low-carb candied nuts, which are bestsellers, and then we’ve got our crunchy cheese mix, which is a lot like a low-carb Doritos type of experience. So feel free to check us out on Amazon, appreciate any and all feedback, and thanks for listening.
[39:35] No problem. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for coming.
- Trent, thanks again. It’s been great.
[49:42] Thank you so much for listening to this episode. If you are a repeat listener or you’re a first-time listener, it would mean the world to me, if you enjoyed this episode, if you would take a moment, and on whatever app you’re using to listen to this, give this, give us a rating a five, however many stars you think we deserve, and some words that will help other people to discover The Bright Ideas Podcast and all the goodness that we are doing our very best to spread out into the world by sharing these founder stories.
To get to the show notes for today’s episode, where I mentioned links to other episodes and so forth. Just go to brightideas.co/364. Man, 364 episodes. That’s a lot of episodes. And thank you so much for tuning in. If you have any questions for me, just hit me up on Twitter, and I’ll do my very best to get you an answer. Take care. We’ll see you in the next episode soon, bye.
Brandon’s Bright Ideas
- Do a Micro-test Before Quitting Your Job
- Explore the Possibilities and Innovate
- Try Out Different Marketing Strategies
- Utilize Algorithm Rules to Increase the Searchability of Your Product
- Manufacturing Your Own Products For a While can be an Advantage
Do a Micro-test Before Quitting Your Job
When it came to starting his business, Brandon mentions how having a lot of experience in eCommerce gave them confidence. They knew how to read trends and identify what would be profitable. However, before quitting your current job, you must first conduct a micro-test.
Gather information about things that could fail and test them in the market. A micro-test can also be beneficial in increasing your Amazon sales.
Although Brandon himself did not conduct micro-tests early in his company’s journey, he still advises people to do them. He cautions, though, not to get stuck in the micro-testing phase. He says:
“You don’t have to build a $10 million business to be able to free yourself from your day job. And that’s certainly what we’ve learned along the way.”
Explore the Possibilities and Innovate
Although Brandon didn’t counsel listeners to do this specifically, their approach was to have fun in the kitchen. If they ended up with an exciting and fun product, they marketed it.
The advantage of this method is the product you put out is unique. As Brandon says, “Your market size is one; you’re the first one.” Because they loved exploring possibilities and innovating, Keto Farms became the first brand that sold keto trail mix.
The disadvantage would be that there is no market demand for what you are creating yet.
Brandon mentions, “Maybe we would have had earlier success, but that was kind of our approach, and I think while it made results slower in the short term… it also built a lot of brand value.”
Try Out Different Marketing Strategies
Brandon used influencer marketing to get the word out. Before focusing on Amazon sales, they reached out and sent their products to influencers. According to him, “It’s kind of a psychological principle of reciprocity.”
Brandon also added that their email list helped get people’s attention on Amazon. Here are the things Brandon did in his email marketing strategy:
- Added a juicy offer to encourage people to try their product.
- Encouraged them to leave a review on Amazon.
With this strategy, Keto Farms saw its Amazon sales go up.
Utilize Algorithm Rules to Increase the Searchability of Your Product
Using the algorithm to your advantage can increase your Amazon sales exponentially. It is advantageous to drive external traffic towards Amazon.
What you can do is turn off your D-to-C and redirect all your traffic to Amazon. Amazon rewards external traffic and will make your product more searchable on its platform.
As Brandon attests, “External traffic was a huge, huge factor for us in our success on Amazon, and one that I advise others not to shy away from.”
Manufacturing Your Own Products For a While can be an Advantage
Keto Farms had a terrible experience with a co-packer. Because of this, they bought inexpensive equipment, rented out space, and started manufacturing their products on their own.
Doing so was advantageous to them as they were able to react quickly to market feedback. If a product had a so-so review, Keto Farms could immediately do iterations on it.
“So that was very strategic, obviously allowed us to operate efficiently.”
After a while, when you’ve already established your products in the market, you can hire other professionals to help with manufacturing.
The key takeaway is that Keto Farms made the right decision for that phase in their company’s life cycle.
What Did We Learn from This Episode?
- We learned how knowledge in a particular industry could give you the confidence to start a successful business.
- Taking advantage of algorithms can contribute to the success of your business, especially when it comes to Amazon sales.
- Before launching a product, be sure to do micro-tests.
- In increasing your Amazon sales, it is beneficial to collaborate with influencers.
- Manufacturing your own products can help you respond to feedback more quickly.
- Do not wait to do what you want until it’s too late.
[3:22] – Brandon’s Introduction
- Brandon’s company is called Keto Farms. They sell keto-friendly snacks on Amazon.
- They started the business in 2018 and are approaching a million-dollar run rate on eCommerce in 2021.
- Brandon shares that he is the only full-time employee. He outsources people to do other tasks.
- Keto Farms turned profitable last year.
[6:48] – How Brandon came up with an idea for a product
- Brandon made a gentleman’s agreement with his business partner, who has been into the keto diet.
- They decided to quit their corporate-type jobs and banked on the keto diet trend on Amazon.
[9:34] – Brandon discusses what indicated that he is ready for business
- He would advise anyone to do micro-testing before quitting their job.
- One thing that gave them confidence is having a lot of experience in eCommerce.
- He examined the numbers and figured out their venture wasn’t that scary, so they started the business.
[11:05] – The apps Brandon used to get data for his business
- Internally, they have a couple of different tools.
- But the one they use today is Helium10. It informs Brandon about the competitive landscape in Amazon.
[12:00] – The products Keto Farms launched
- Their initial offerings were instant coffee and matcha.
- Brandon eventually figured out that snacks had a higher take rate than powder beverages.
- Their approach was to have fun in the kitchen and work with novel ingredients.
- Eventually, they launched their own site and worked with influencers on Instagram.
- By this point, their Amazon sales dramatically rose.
[17:37] – How Brandon kept the momentum of his business
- He used an email list to drive traffic towards Keto Farm’s Amazon page.
- Amazon loves external traffic. With this in mind, Brandon redirected all of Keto Farm’s website traffic to Amazon.
- Brandon utilized this differentiating factor to increase the search rank of their product and Amazon sales.
[22:30] – Building the company by maximizing enterprise value and promoting sustainability
- Harvesting from your current email list will only drive your Amazon sales up to a point.
- Eventually, you’ll need to start thinking about having a fresh batch of people on your email list.
- Keto Farms is also actively thinking about reviving D-to-C and bringing its products into retail stores.
[25:17] – The packaging story of their products
- To further Amazon sales and get into retail, Keto Farms is thinking of investing in a professional packaging redesign.
- The only thing that could sell your product in retail is the packaging.
- They haven’t thought of crowdsourcing, but they are looking for traditional VC angel investors for the packaging.
[28:07] – Keto Farm’s self-manufacturing phase
- Brandon mentions how they had a horrible experience with a co-packer.
- They then decided to do their own manufacturing, with inexpensive equipment and rented space.
- Self-manufacturing helped them address customer feedback faster.
- However, they had less time for marketing, sales, and product development.
- They eventually outsourced a new co-packer.
[31:29] – Scaling Keto Farms
- Brandon shares that they have had offers to sell Keto Farms outright.
- However, they feel like it’s not the right time yet.
- Brandon is also still exploring opportunities in retail, packaging, and rebranding.
[36:14] – Final Lessons From Brandon
- Brandon’s go-to question when faced with big decisions is: If you are on your deathbed, would you regret never going for it?
- There is usually a lot less downside to going for things than you think.
- He is much happier now than when he was in a corporate job. Even though a million dollars is still a small sum, Brandon believes they will continue to grow if they continue to do their best.
Brandon is the co-founder of Keto Farms. Keto Farms is a growing food company that makes craveable, real-food keto-friendly snacks to help people satisfy cravings and find success along their health journey. Keto Farms products are available nationwide exclusively through Amazon.com.