Last year was undeniably difficult for many businesses, especially for those just starting. The pandemic affected many businesses’ marketing strategies, revenue, and performance. However, some businesses thrived, just like Anja Skodda’s HappyBond.
Despite having no funding, Anja Skodda, the founder and CEO of HappyBond, pushed her business to success. Within just one year, they have reached six figures in their revenue, a feat that many businesses failed to achieve. Their success means that they have helped many pet owners increase their dogs’ lifespans and well-being with their science-backed nutrition essentials.
In this episode, Anja shares with us her golden nuggets in how she made HappyBond successful. She discusses how they used content marketing and a variety of other techniques to build their brand.
Listen to this episode to learn more about how Anja Skodda reached six figures even with no funding.
Click here to read transcript
[02:49] It’s a pleasure to have you here. So for the folks in my audience who maybe aren’t familiar with you yet. Let’s start there. Who are you? And what’s your company do?
- Yeah, so my name is Anja Skodda. I’m the founder and CEO of HAPPYBOND, and we make sure that your pets live a healthier life with nutrition that is based on science. I’m a biotech engineer, so I create science-backed nutrition to keep your dogs healthy, and strengthen that special bond.
[03:19] Wonderful. My dog Dodger, his life is better off, I’m sure, because people like you exist in the world. So that’s great. When did you start your business?
- So we started to sell in the US in August 2019. So last year was our first year of full—full year of business.
[03:40] Okay, and you started formulating, I think for your bulldog way back in 2017. Is that right?
- Yes. So my background is in biotech engineering. I build cartilage in the lab for avoiding animal testing through 3D models, to do drug testing on rheumatoid arthritis. And my bulldog, Tony was a passionate skateboarder. And he got arthritis in his shoulder. It sounds funny, but he was really good. So he got arthritis in his shoulder and due to my background, I could formulate something that brought him back within a week. That’s our first skew collagen formulation.
[04:18] Okay, and so that skew now in it—because I know your sales have been going very, very quickly. I think you told me that from the first quarter to the fourth quarter, you actually quadrupled your sales closing in on somewhere in the mid-six figures for the first year, which is a pretty decent first year for a company that doesn’t have any investor funding or anything like that. Talk to me a little bit about revenue breakdown. Is the one skew still the bulk of the revenue or have you managed to diversify it to more than one skew?
- So we started the whole journey with one skew of that collagen and now extended even that product line into five different skews, because we adapted that to different age stages from puppy, adult to senior, and even in different flavors and different sizes. But we also added some treats, some other great chew sticks with collagen. So we have right now ten skews on the website, and expanding this year with another ten skews.
[05:23] Okay. And so the whole goal of this interview, of course, is to try and help other brand owners who are listening to ideally walk away from this interview with some—I like to call them, golden nuggets. Things that have worked well for you that perhaps they would be able to implement in their business. So let’s talk a little bit about—first of all revenue breakdown is between Amazon and your direct-to-consumer website, roughly what is the split of revenue?
- Um, so I would say we have around 70 to 80% on our DTC platform, and the rest is Amazon, and some other online retail like www.petco.com and www.chewy.com.
[06:04] When you launched the very first skew, what can you tell us about that launch? What did you do to get traction?
- So if you know the pet space a little bit, especially the hip and joint market that is very crowded, and a lot of people tried a lot of products that don’t work with all the old science that is not really showing great results. We actually got Cesar Millan, formerly known as the dog whisperer, as our partner to endorse this product because he tried it and had great results with his dog.
So I would say the first step was to gain that trust of the consumer so they would try it. And now we see the traction that they see it works. So we, you know, you get the momentum that other people recommended the reviews, seeing on Amazon seeing on our website, that’s very important that customer talk about their experience with a product.
[07:02] So the audience I’m sure is scratching their head thinking well, how on earth did you ever get Caesar? Is it Cesar Milan? Is it how you say his name? I’ve heard of him before.
- You didn’t hear of him before?
[07:15] I have heard of him before. I just want to make sure I was pronouncing his name correctly. But how did you get, and you said formerly known as the dog whisperer, which begs another question, but let’s get to the first one first, how on earth did you get connected with this man?
- One of our advisors connected me to the management and we persisted to get a meeting. And I actually just had him to try the product with his dog. And his dog at that point wasn’t able to move. He was—barely, he was on pain relief. He was 12 years old and was kind of sad to see. So he wanted to try something. And he said, “Well, I tried it all. I don’t believe in it, this probably doesn’t work. But I’ll try it.” And two, three weeks later, he called me, said, “My dog is running pain relievers off. That’s it, I’ll help you.” And it’s more that he put the word out to say that and stand for that product thing, that I use it and he still uses it for all his dogs, he believes in that results.
[08:18] So having a fantastic product as might come as no surprise has been core to the success of your marketing.
- That’s true. Yes.
[08:29] So when you—say you got the product launched with some help from Cesar, but I’m sure there was more to it than that. What were some of the other marketing activities that have worked well for you? And maybe even talk about some of the mistakes that you’ve made, too, because there’s always good lessons in those mistakes.
- Yes, that’s true. Well, first of all, of course, everyone does paid media, and Facebook, Instagram and all these other channels. I would say last year was a challenging year, because it was just different. We couldn’t do the normal sales activity like events and connect with our customers that way.
So we actually changed our strategy into getting in touch with our customers with content production. So we did a lot of IG lives, interviewed other pet people in this business that have products, that have insurances, dog TV, like everything you know about pets. We interviewed those people weekly, and put that out there and we got a lot of responses from our customers, and to engage with us. So I think that was one really big achievement that we saw working. Not right away. Like you know, you always hear these stories about “Oh, I did this and then our sales went crazy.” I think it’s mostly a lot of money behind it or it takes a little time to adapt.
I think we’ve found that niche of content production and, of course, you know, the right voice, the right copy on ads. The same on Amazon, you know, it has to just resonate with a consumer.
[10:13] It does and the right words, and the right messaging is absolutely critical to making that happen. So I do have some follow on questions. So you’d mentioned Instagram Live? Was that something that worked quite well for you? Or was it marginal in terms of results?
- I think it really worked well for us. It depends. Probably, I mean, I think the biggest success we had because we had our bulldog, Fernando, next to me, and many people just tuned in because of him. That was maybe an advantage. Because it’s always within the dog business, you have that advantage of having dogs with you. I think that was one point.
But then also the science, we really figured out that many people just want to know what’s behind this, like science, you know, packaged in an easy way that you can understand. Many people want to know. It’s not only their dogs, it’s themselves. So we did a lot of science session where I explained about amino acids. Why do your dog need that? Why do you need it? Why do you need collagen? What does it actually do in your body? And that really worked well. We had Cesar tuning into some of those IG sessions as well, which brought us a much wider audience, of course.
But I like that idea of educating in a nice way. So the consumer can navigate in this space and trust us. And when they trust us, they buy our products.
[11:44] So I’ve never done an IG live myself. And I’m sure many of the folks who are listening to this probably haven’t either. So let’s make sure that we give enough information so they understand how to do it. So the first challenge I would think is you’ve got to make sure you’re going to get people to show up. So Cesar lended a hand in that, I’m sure. What else did you do to make sure that you know, you drove eyeballs so that when you did the live event on Instagram, there was anybody watching?
- Yeah, I think you have to just not see who is joining or not, because you will record it and then share it on Instagram. And we re-sent those sessions over our email as well. So email marketing was a big part of that, too. I don’t think you necessarily need that many people joining that live, of course it grew. But it’s more about just doing it, not looking at that, and having fun, and interviewing interesting people. And then we just share the content over Instagram, the stories, and over our email marketing. So you actually can still view all those recordings.
[12:51] Okay, so much like you and I are doing right now we’re recording a podcast, we’re not doing a live. But the benefit, of course, is that you now have this piece of content that you’re able to use over and over again in whatever way that you would like. Is there a time limit on how long an Instagram Live can go? Or can you go as long as you like?
- I think you can go as long as you like. We always kept it to half an hour. And you can upload it on YouTube, and then share it and that content is there for you as long as you want.
[13:23] And do you have to hold your phone up in front of your face the whole time? Are you able to do this to the desktop? Like how do you actually make it happen?
- It is your phone and you can buy one of those little holders. It’s just doing it because I wasn’t a big fan, and I’m not an Instagram person. But it’s just getting used to it and just talk like it’s a conversation like we do now. It’s the same thing.
[13:50] Okay, cool. So there’s one tactic folks that you can take away, you should try Instagram Live, don’t worry about who shows up for the live part of it. Ideally, have someone that you’re talking to because the two-way conversations are much easier than monologues. That’s why I host a show where I interview people because I wouldn’t want to have to come here and talk all by myself because there’s a lot more prep that goes into that.
All right, so ticking the box for Instagram lives. What were some of the other things you mentioned as well, content in general, what were some of the other bits of content marketing that you’ve tried and had some success with? And also maybe if you had any learning opportunities or failures, if you’d like to call them that?
- Yeah, I think I will lean into email marketing. We did share quite a lot through those channels on content. But what did not work is a long content. Like I mean, if you get an email you probably want to read through it quickly. We’re not a discount brand. So we didn’t send every week, new offers. So there was a different strategy more, tried to keep it easy with learning some stuff of the ingredients. And in the beginning, I would say our mistake was to keep that—to make that content too long. It’s just not, we didn’t have a high open rate and didn’t get much revenue out of it. And when we changed to having it really in digestible pieces, like short content, just maybe focused on one ingredient, and then one problem, we had so much better opening rate and click through rates.
[15:36] Okay, so you’re trying to teach—you’re trying to educate your target audience. You’ve got five things that you want to educate them on. Sending them all in one email, that was a fail. Sending five emails that cover each one of those things sequentially was a success. Okay.
In terms of blogging, or guest posting, or any of the other of the many forms of content marketing that are available to marketers today, did you try anything else?
- We do have blog content that we update every week. We started that probably late last year. That’s, that is in building a new website. That was another thing that we built a whole new website. So that website has a lot of content itself. So when you navigate through that, we put a lot of effort in building those nice graphics, and even animations, to understand our whole health approach for dogs.
And I also want to mention that it probably wouldn’t work for every brand, because not every brand needs to educate the audience. Like our specific supplement is in a space where people have been told for years, these are the ingredients you should use. And now we created something different. That’s why we saying we need to educate and build that trust, because it’s just that segment. If you sell something different that doesn’t need this, maybe that strategy won’t work for you. So it really depends on the product, how you look at that.
[17:06] Yep, absolutely. All right. Let’s talk a little bit about your advertising before we finish up. So has—roughly what you spend on advertising in the last year, do you think?
- As I said, we didn’t get any funding. So we were super bootstrapped. I would say like $35,000.
[17:23] Still, $35,000 a good chunk of money when it’s coming out of your own piggy bank. Did ads—so you got started now, had you had previous advertising experience in the consumer space? Or was this all new for you?
- This was quite—that strategy was quite new. And that product, I was in a consumer space in a total different category before, which wouldn’t need that much advertising online. So the paid media and that channel, and also due to the last year, we really pushed more into the online DTC, which was new for me.
[18:00] Okay. And you’re using these ads to predominantly drive traffic to what? The product list to the website?
- And to the product itself. Yes.
[08:12] And did you test running ads to content that talked about the product versus running ads directly to the product detail page?
- Yes, we also build landing pages with different content to try out. And every time it works best if you have a short, educational part about it, and then a call to action button. I believe it has to be super easy for the customer to engage and buy. So that’s important.
[18:47] What, which call to actions have thus far proved to be the most effective?
- I think in the ads just landing on our product page on the new website, because it’s really short, easy, understandable, kind of like Amazon. That’s another—Amazon is the easiest to convert any customer because there’s, it’s just built that way.
[19:14] Indeed. In your ads, if I saw one of your ads, and I’m clicking through the landing page, and I’m going on, I’m going to click the call to action, which I’m assuming is add to cart. Are you testing any upsells? For example, “You bought one of these things. Would you like to buy five more if we give you 20% off” or “Would you like to buy this other thing that’s related to the first thing,” or are you simply going for the first order?
- We do have some upsells in terms of avoiding shipping costs, like treats. Not really our product and not really with a discount code. But we do have that upset function that we add certain products or recommend products to the one they already added. So if you have a senior dog, we might recommend the two sticks that already have collagen in them as a beneficial treat versus a puppy, we might just recommend some salmon treats, pure for their protein and for the skin.
[20:15] Do you happen to know off the top of your head, the impact on your average order value and your return on ad spend as a result of doing those upsells?
- We do have raised our average order value by about 30% during the last year with implementing those strategies, and adding those treats are add ons that we call them. So that that was positive. In the return on ad spend, as we had no funding, we were very conservative that we need to always be over two times or three times return on ad spend.
[20:52] Okay, And what platform—are you focused predominantly on one platform like Facebook, or Instagram or Google? Or are you kind of spreading the money around across all?
- We actually tried several, we’re focusing mainly on Facebook, and Google, and Amazon. But we also tried out new ways like Nextdoor, Pinterest. And I believe, especially on Pinterest, is more brand building that we saw not so much conversion to sales, which might come later. Our Nextdoor had great results in the beginning. It’s a little difficult to track. But we’re still experiencing some good returns there.
[21:34] Okay. And did you hire a contractor or an agency to run the ads and create the campaigns for you? Or did you just do it yourself?
- We engaged an agency last year, April and changed in Fall last year as well. So we had two different agencies now for the second one, just because we needed to scale. So we had an agency outsource, as we have a very lean team. So we had some help with advisors that are in the marketing space. And they could manage those agencies. And we were able to really structure all these briefs for ads, and we have great brand guidelines.
I think that’s very important to also know that you should really be aware of what ads you’re putting out there. Is that your brand? Is this the voice of your brand? That was important to us. So we actually created brand guidelines to share with our agency. And yeah, you have a lot of experience in an agency because it’s not just one person.
[22:39] So let’s sum up with this. If you were sitting in a coffee shop, having a chat with someone who’s about to launch a consumer products brand, be it in the pet space or not. And you’ve now got this year of experience, and learned a lot of lessons and made some mistakes and lost some money but overall, it made quite a bit of progress. What would be the top three pieces of advice that you would give them?
- I think first of all, know what your brand stands for, and what the voice of your brand should be. Second, not spreading yourself too thin on all channels. Concentrate, try some out and concentrate on one or two until you see success to then adapt new ones. And third, I believe keeping a really good relationship with your customers, like with content or with customer care being available and being there to not be unreachable. That makes sense.
[23:47] Cool. I couldn’t agree more. I run a software business as anyone listening to this show would know, Flowster and you know, this whole idea of software as people come in, they sign up and you don’t have to talk to them and so forth. And we’re not as young as your company. But we’re still a very young company. And we put an inordinate amount of effort into manually reaching out to our new customers, to brands in particular, that come and sign up to use our Amazon Seller Playbook. Simply because we want them to have the very best experience possible. Plus, it gives us an opportunity to ask them you know about their business and their problems and their challenges and what words they insight we pay very close attention to the words that they use to describe those challenges.
And that insight from a marketer’s perspective is incredibly valuable for us. So it’s really really it’s—yeah, it’s high labor, we got to do these things, but it’s a win win because it’s better for our customer. It’s better for us and you know, maybe we won’t do that forever. But for now, it has absolutely been critical to our success.
So Anja, I want to thank you very much for being on the show. I’m sure we have plenty of dog owners in the audience. And some of them may have hip and joint problems. So say the URL of your website for me one more time in case anybody wants to go and check out some of your products.
- Yeah, so it’s happybond.com. Very simple.
[25:12] Wonderful. Anja, thank you so much—go ahead.
- Sorry, just to add on with senior dogs, it’s not only for senior dogs, we have puppy and adult, and they should start as early as possible. That supplement is not only hip and joint supporting it can build them. Right. And it has skin and coat, enhancement and digestion. So it’s one, a really good thing.
[25:36] All right, all you dog owners, go treat your dogs well and get some of Anja’s products on you. Thank you so much for making some time to be on the show. It’s been a pleasure to have you here.
- Thank you so much for having me. It was great talking to you.
[25:47] Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode if you enjoyed this episode, and you’ve not already done so I would be massively grateful if you would take a moment right now on your favorite podcast listening app, and like, rate, and review the show it makes a huge difference because it teaches the algorithm that the show is really worthwhile, and that more people should become aware of it. So a tip of the hat and a huge thank you for doing that.
To get to the show notes for today’s episode, just go to brightideas.co/362. Thanks so much for tuning in. We’ll see you in the next episode soon. Take care. Bye bye.
Anja Skodda’s Bright Ideas
- Use Relevant Content Marketing Strategies
- Make Your Content Digestible
- Educate Your Customers and Earn their Trust
- Focus on One Platform First
- Use Ads and Upsells for Your Brand
Use Relevant Content Marketing Strategies
Last year was tough for many businesses because many traditional forms of marketing became irrelevant or unworkable. Anja shares with us how they redirected their marketing strategy to that of content marketing.
Firstly, Anja reminds us that you must be aware of your business to know what kind of strategy you can use.
“And I also want to mention that it probably wouldn’t work for every brand because not every brand needs to educate the audience,” she says.
For the last year, they had online interviews with different pet owners and even businesses involving pet care. This kind of marketing fits their business perfectly.
If you’ll use content marketing, then having the right voice in your copywriting that will resonate with your customer is vital.
Make Your Content Digestible
Anja shares that they utilized email marketing.
However, email marketing didn’t work well for them initially. In the beginning, HappyBond’s team tended to write long content. These emails had low opening and click-through rates.
With this realization, they changed the format of their emails. Their recipe for a good email is as follows:
The copy and content of your emails must be digestible for the readers. With this new formula, they received better opening and click-through rates, and at the same time, they educated their customers.
Directing the traffic to your website is another factor that helped HappyBond’s success.
It’s important to have a website that is easy to understand and pleasing to the eyes.
“I believe it has to be super easy for the customer to engage and buy,” Anja mentions.
Educate Your Customers and Earn their Trust
Anja realized that many customers are interested in the science behind HappyBond’s products. This realization pushed Anja more in making content for HappyBond that is educational and easy-to-read.
“I like that idea of educating in a nice way so the consumer can navigate in this space and trust us. And if they trust us, they buy our products,” Anja says.
They want to approach their customers as people they can trust with their pets’ lives. Their products were able to nurse one of Caesar Milan’s dogs back to health. This event paved the way for collaborations with Caesar.
Anja believes that when people trust you, they’ll buy your products.
Focus on One Platform First
One of the main tips of Anja for people who want to launch their products is to concentrate on one or two platforms before you adopt new ones.
Anja uses Instagram Live to reach out to their audience, and it worked well for their business. With the right mindset and intriguing ideas, you can use Instagram Live to build your community.
Keep these golden nuggets when you want to do Instagram Live for your business:
- Interview interesting people.
- Don’t mind how many people join your Instagram Live.
- Just be fun and enjoy every moment.
- Record your session and send the video as in your email marketing
- Upload the session on YouTube.
Anja shares that using Instagram is also new for her, “And I’m not an Instagram person, but it’s just getting used to it and just talk like it’s a conversation like we do now.”
Use Ads and Upsells for Your Brand
Just like any other business, HappyBond uses ads as well. They mainly use Facebook, Google, and Amazon for their ads.
Anja highlights that you must be aware of what kind of ads you’ll use for your business. You must ask yourself if the ads fit your brand.
Since last year they had help with their ads through hiring agencies. Hiring agencies were helpful for HappyBond because experts helped them make the perfect ads for the brand.
Aside from ads, they also used upselling to create more revenue. With their upselling, they have raised their value to 30% during last year.
Make sure that your upsells must be strategic for it to help your business. HappyBond doesn’t use discount cards on their products, but they encourage their customers to have add-ons instead.
What Did We Learn from This Episode?
- We learned how Anja Skodda reached six figures in HappyBond even without funding.
- Content marketing strategies help grow a brand.
- Your content must be short, digestible, and educational.
- You have to build a good relationship with your customers so that they’ll trust you and buy your products.
- Focus on using one platform first and then adapt afterward.
- You have to be aware of what kind of ads you’ll use to represent your brand.
[02:58] — Anja introduces HappyBond and shares a bit of herself
- Anja is the founder and CEO of HappyBond.
- She is also a biotech engineer and uses her expertise in making science-backed essential nutrients to keep your dog healthy and strengthen that special bond.
[03:45] — Beginning of formulating for dogs
- She built 3D models of cartilage in the lab to avoid animal testing.
- Her bulldog, Tony, had arthritis in his shoulder.
- Anja wanted to formulate something that will nurse him back to health within a week.
[04:51] — The growth of HappyBond within a year
- HappBond started with just one skew of products; now they have five.
- They have adapted the different stages from puppy, adult, to senior.
- They also have treats and chew sticks with collagen. You can find these products on their website.
[05:50] — Revenue of HappyBond
- Anja says that the majority of their revenue comes from their direct-to-consumer website.
- The remaining revenue comes from Amazon and other online retailers like petco.com and chewy.com.
[06:04] — How HappyBond got traction on its first launch
- The market for pet essentials is very crowded.
- A lot of people tried various products that don’t work. The old science is not showing real great results.
- With this in mind, they got Cesar Millan to endorse their product because he tried their products and had great results with his dog.
- Having a successful product is the core of HappyBond’s marketing.
[08:29] — Content marketing for HappyBond
- They have done paid media through Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels.
- Due to the pandemic, they changed their strategy and focused more on content marketing.
- They did a lot of collaborations with other pet owners and other businesses involved in pet care.
- They also used the right message to resonate with their customers.
[10:13] — Working with Instagram Live
- Instagram Live worked well for their business.
- They record a lot of science sessions where they educate viewers.
- HappyBond records their sessions and uses email marketing to spread the word.
[14:21] — What Anja learned in other content marketing strategies they did
- Anja did a lot of email marketing for HappyBond.
- Writing long email content did not work for them.
- They changed their emails into short, digestible content. These had a better opening rate and click-through rates.
- HappyBond also has new blog content every week.
- They placed a lot of effort into building a website with attractive graphics and animations that help their audience learn more about their dog’s health.
[17:17] — Using ads to drive traffic
- For the last year, Anja spent around $35,000 on advertising.
- Using advertising as a strategy was something new to Anja.
- Due to the pandemic, they placed more focus on the direct-to-customer website.
[18:23] — Landing pages and contents
- Their website has landing pages with different kinds of content to try out.
- They found that what works best for them are contents that have a short educational part about it.
- They placed a call to action as well in these landing pages to engage the customer.
[19:14] — Ads, calls to action, and upsells
- HappyBond upsells with treats to encourage buyers to avoid shipping costs.
- With these upsells, they have raised their average order value by about 30% during last year.
- They have no funding, so they are very conservative about ad spend.
[20:52] — Using media platforms for ads
- HappyBond mainly focuses on Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
- They also have tried Nextdoor and Pinterest.
[21:43] — Hiring contractors and agencies to run ads and campaigns
- They outsourced agencies because they need help from advisors that are in the marketing space.
- With the agencies’ help, they structured the perfect ads for them and built great brand guidelines.
- You get a lot of help in agencies because they are composed of experienced people.
[23:10] — Anja’s tips for those who want to launch a consumer products brand
- Know what your brand stands for.
- Concentrate on one channel first, then adapt later on.
- Have a good relationship with your customers.
Which of Anja Skodda’s bright ideas sparked something in you? Do you think the content marketing strategies she shared will be effective for your business? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts with us.
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Anja Skodda Founder and CEO of HappyBond is an e-commerce pet nutraceutical company. Anja is a scientist and serial entrepreneur, as well as a first-class honours graduate in biotechnology from the Technical University of Berlin.
As a keen lover of animals – she’s a former dressage rider with 20 years of experience – Anja has developed a successful series of supplements for sport horses, as well as a joint supplement for dogs.