In today’s episode, you are in for a real treat! My guest on the show is an eCommerce entrepreneur by the name of Geoff Woo, founder of HVMN. When I heard what HVMN had accomplished with his in the nutritional supplements industry, I knew what I had to get him to come onto the show so I could grill him with questions and uncover all the clever tactics that he used to achieve the results that he has – and Geoff did not disappoint.

Full Transcript

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Trent: Our guest on the show today is Geoffrey Woo. He is the cofounder and CEO of HVMN, a human performance research company that makes nutrition and supplements for elite performance in sport, cognition, and the military. HVMN makes HVMN Ketone, the world’s first Ketone Ester drink based on technology developed in the DARPA program to enhance soldier performance. HVMN also organizes WeFast, one of the first online intermittent fasting communities and the HVMN Podcast. Geoff holds a BS with honors and distinction in the computer science from Stanford University. Please join me in welcoming Geoff to the show. Hey Geoff, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.

Geoffrey: Hey Trent. Thanks for having me on.

Trent: Yeah, no problem. So for people who are not necessarily familiar with you or your company, and they only heard just a little bit in the introduction about yourself, maybe let’s get it from you in your own words, who are you and what do you do?

Geoffrey: I’m Geoffrey Woo, I grew up in a town called Palos Verdes near Los Angeles in California, and I’m the CEO and founder of HVMN. We’re a human performance research company and we make CPGs, and biotech related products to enhance human performance. I started the company about four or five years ago, and are now working with elite athletes, folks on the Department of Defense and everyday folks who want to get better performance, be a better version of themselves. So, that’s a nutshell of who I am and all what we do.

Trent: All right. So that people understand how much progress you have or haven’t made, is there a way we can quantify kind of where the company is today, are you able to talk about revenue or number of employees or number of customers or some kind of metric?

Geoffrey: Yeah, we are a multi million revenue company backed by a little bit of over 7 million VC money. One of our lead investors Andreessen Horowitz, our customer base numbers in the tens of thousands and have 15 employees.

Trent: Okay, so you’ve obviously made a good success of it. Going back to the beginning, first of all, mention two things. One, how you came up with the idea, do you have a background on this stuff? And then the second part to that is, at what point in the evolution of your idea did you seek to get professional investor dollars into the company?

Geoffrey: Good question. So, I’m a computer scientist by background, so I studied computer science at Stanford and actually sold my first business which I founded right out of college to Groupon back in 2013.

Trent: Oh wow.

Geoffrey: So that was a pretty quick MBA or a quick lesson in terms of raising money in Silicon Valley, going to markets, acquiring customers and then negotiating an M&A. So, I was around 20, I think just before I turned 24 I negotiated for that first initial exit. And when I was at Groupon, for a little bit of a golden handcuffs or last investing, I realized that the software space, technology space was interesting. But I thought a lot of the problems there were perhaps, I mean, I think obviously intellectual interesting but perhaps not necessarily interesting from a societal or cultural perspective.

What I mean by that is a lot of the smartest friends I knew from the Stanford Computer Science program were focused on making machine learning algorithms better or helping people click more ads on the e-commerce platform, and helping people analyze click through rates and CAC and LTV which are all important of course, everyone needs to make money but it wasn’t necessarily interesting from a social cultural perspective. And one of the things that really caught my eye was that we’re all humans and are we actually acting and performing at our very best at all times? And it’s clearly not. Some people are performing better than others. And that got me down personally on a path of wanting to optimize my own performance and really dive into the world of biohacking.

So around four or five years ago, a lot of online forums that kept saying people’s different nootropic stacks, or nootropics are a colloquial term for smart drugs or kind of enhancers. So people were experimenting with all these sort of techniques, the biohack, more productivity, better biomarkers meaning just metrics from your own body that are good quantitative markers of overall health or performance. And I just started personally tinkering with starting to import my own bags of white powder of research chemicals from Alibaba to label and use of brushing Alzheimer drugs. It’s really experimenting, these are not illegal drugs, these are just unscheduled research compounds, so caveat, or just a disclaimer there.

And the entrepreneurial light bulb came on when I realized that a lot of organic search trends for nootropics or biohacking have been growing over the last four or five years. So it wasn’t just me interested in human performance. It was a whole community of folks realizing you could apply quantitative almost engineering approach to human performance. And the initial seed there was okay, I’m just importing random bags of powder from Alibaba and random chemical labs in China. There’s got to be a better way to do this. There’s got to be a better, safer way to do this. Can I look at heavy metal testing? Can I do purity testing on these compounds? And of course you can.

And as I started fixing the other infrastructure to just acquire nootropics that I wanted, and just seeing that there’s a big swell of organic interest in the space, I just decided to put the other simple e-commerce landing page, can we just start collecting traffic and collecting emails and collecting credit cards pre orders for this nootropics service. And as a computer scientist by background, as an engineer I could cut up a website. So threw up a landing page and a couple in a day or two and started collecting traffic, and that first weekend we got 30 preorders for like 29.99. So I had like my $1,000 of presales revenue.

And I’m a completionist type of a person, so okay, let’s actually just make these nootropics and sell and then fulfill these orders. And that got me kicked off on this journey where it was always sort of it’s going to be a side project. I never thought of this as like, okay, I’m going to be a human performance or biohacking professional. But then seven eight months into fulfilling and running an e-commerce first party site, we had 80k a month of revenue and were like, oh shit, this – sorry, we better, you know holy. This is a million revenue run rate business. This could be a real thing. And that’s when we started bringing on professional investors and folks really to scale up not just the business side, both the science and technology side of the business.

Trent: So from zero to 80k if I heard you right, basically started off with a landing — yet no list to speak of, you just put up a landing page. And how did you drive traffic? Did you just run some Facebook ads to it or do you sharing it on Facebook groups?

Geoffrey: It was signing up for a bunch of different forums and posting the spam essentially. It’s like hey, this is my story. I’m a computer science person by background, interested in biohacking and optimizing performance, here’s my research I did and here’s a service I put together, here’s what we’re doing, consider ordering on pre sales. And just signed up for like 9, 10 different accounts. So, some of the popular forums were Hacker News, which is a website hosted by the founders of Y Combinator, which is a pretty startup engineering heavy forum subreddit posting on longevity biohacker forum and just getting as much eyeballs on it as possible and just like spamming my own personal Facebook, just like any sort of traction, any sort of initial momentum.

But I would say that we were relatively lucky in the sense that I think the timing was really good. So rewind three, four years ago and you might remember there was a bunch of articles coming out around Silicon Valley culture in what are all the weird people in Silicon Valley doing? And one of these streams that people really like talking about is what all these weird biohackers are doing smart drugs, are doing weird fasting stuff. And I think just by the pedigree of my personal background of being a Stanford computer scientist, having Silicon people for my cofounder, our COO was a product manager at Google. I think we were good personifications of what Silicon Valley was.

And it wasn’t — I don’t think it was like a master plan to play into this story that people want, the media wanted to tell. But I think looking back; it was kind of like that. I think the media, journalists wanted to tell this. I think people were curious of what was happening, what was this magic sauce that was in Silicon Valley, what were people doing, and we were good characters that personified a lot of the attributes they wanted to tell. I think we got Lucky there in terms of doing some good grassroots hustling on top of organic traffic on forums.

And then our story hit just a couple intersections of what old people wanted to hear about. And I think we started, I think relative adaptable and realizing that that was a story that people wanted to tell and evolve their own personal narrative to tell that story better. So it’s half real and then half a little bit of performance art.

Trent: And your timing was such that the media really wanted to write about this. It’s not like you had to work really hard and hire PR agencies to go and get this coverage. You just had, you were talking, you had a story that was unique and interesting at that particular point in time?

Geoffrey: Correct. And it wasn’t just reviewing and thinking about it. I had a lot of folks on it for launch who were asking me how do you get your product to your PR, or how do you get so much coverage, and was there a magic button in terms of having a magical PR firm that had all the journalists connections or what was a secret? And I think what I had learned was that journalists job is very simple in some ways. They want to tell interesting stories. Their job is not to be your PR puff piece thing that’s going to blast your press release. They don’t care about that. That’s not interesting. They don’t care about making sales.

They care about what benefits for them which is eyeballs on an interesting story. They want to write about interesting people and interesting stories. So I think if we just flip the script a little bit, okay — and again, this is not thoughtful, I didn’t have this master plan coming in. This was like, okay, I was literally importing random bags of white powder from Alibaba and making my own nootropics powders and got a bunch of my friends who were software engineers and product managers at Silicon Valley companies really excited about what we’re doing, and people wanted to write about it. So I was like, okay, I guess this is kind of like half troll but half of what we’re actually doing.

So, we would just go around, and in the beginning no one wanted to write about us, so just like hey, here’s a story. We’d just like cold email spam any journalists that had anything, that wrote anything similar to what we were doing? So there was like some people that wrote about marijuana legalization or some people writing about early biohacking, nootropics related stuff. But I think the content was maybe a generation or a couple years outdated.

So I think there was like this I think recent resurgence around in the nootropics biohacking story that we really just unlocked. And then that on top of the grassroots really just drove our initial traffic from having no list coming from a software engineer in a software that had no revenue because we were just very [inaudible 00:14:40] location tracking app to having reasonable customer base.

Trent: So if I was to boil that down into a really simple concept, you did a bunch of goggling to find articles that were relevant and you found out who wrote those articles and you reached out to them via cold email and said hey, here’s our story.

Geoffrey: Yeah. And most of them didn’t respond but you just need a couple. And then I think the couple just rolled into a couple more. And then once you get a little bit of momentum and you’re an entity, and people start goggling you, and you have reasonable journalists writing about you and say, okay, these guys are real. And it snow balled up from there.

Trent: Okay, so at any point in and around this point in the timeline, was there a concerted effort to build an audience of any kind to build a list or to build a Facebook group or a community?

Geoffrey: Yeah, so I would say that our list building or community building really kicked off in a couple ways. One, as we had more and more of a media presence, we just realized that people were interested in our, I guess, philosophy if you put it that way. So we just started putting together a podcast of just us, me and my co founder, just talking about our ideas around what it means to be about how I go, what does it mean to engineer human performance? Just some of these like buzzwords, like how do we rigorously to find them.

So for example biohacking is really to me now just a buzzword for engineering principles applied towards human performance. An important part of engineering is having inputs and outputs, but if you can’t measure something, how can we optimize it? And just structuring what we’re doing in a rigorous way as opposed to sort of this song, oh, do yoga, eat a healthy diet, you’ll feel better. That was kind of like biohacking and health, and wellness. And I was just like, okay, I think we all until we get that, but it wasn’t very I would say thoughtful. I think we just came in from again, from a kind of a geeky engineering perspective, applied some latest definition and mathematical structure to it and we were just talking about this on our podcast.

I think where it really kicked off was that we stumbled upon the practice of fasting. Again, this kind of sounds unrelated and like kind of jumping around. But fasting has one of the best bodies of literature around improving metabolic performance and also has an interesting data behind cognitive performance. So again, as we started out in nootropics business, again, a business around enhancing cognitive performance, we realized that fasting, the practice of taking a break from eating was also a really good way to double down on some of the pathways that are activated by nootropics.

And we just started fasting ourselves and it was kind of this fun activity for our entire team at that time like four of us. We would just not eat from Sunday to Wednesday and it was kind of crazy stuff that we figured. It’s a 60 hour fast, pretty intense but it was kind of fun because we would just breakfast together and it was like this fun little thing that our little hodgepodge crew of people would do. And then some of our customers wanted to join in and our friends wanted to join in. And we realized that we just needed a way to coordinate some of this stuff. And that’s where we started putting together a Slack group and a Facebook group to coordinate these fasting meetups.

Trent: Let me jump in with a question. So I use Facebook groups in my business. I get how they work. I use slack, but I use it for just our employees in our various companies. How did you use slack and why versus say because the Facebook group works seemingly quite well to create a community, a closed community that other people from wherever can come into, how and why did you also use Slack in addition to Facebook?

Geoffrey: Oh, so we started off with Slack. And the idea there was this was a lightweight way to just coordinate some fasting meetups. This is breakfast. Then we got — we quickly went from like zero to 4,000 people like 4,000, 5,000 people on that Slack group, really very, very big Slack.

Trent: So, with 4,000 people in a Slack group, isn’t your phone just like literally never stopped alerting?

Geoffrey: Yeah so I just delete but I just don’t have to check the notifications on that Slack group basically. But basically you’re right; we just realized that we outgrew the use case of Slack, so now we run that out of a Facebook group for this around 17, 18,000 people in our sort of main Facebook community. So yeah, I think we just sort of again, I think we came [forwards to mix] [ph] backwards. It was just tapping into a vein of interest and then building infrastructure around it. But I think it sounds like from your experience, you very much come from an operator perspective of okay, let’s build the platform. We need a list, we need a customer base, and that’s fine, later it’s populated.

I really came from this inverse way of like, okay, we’re just tapping into some user interest. And let’s figure out some best practices, the process sizes, and I think we converted around — I think we kind of started converging on some of the techniques and strategies here.

Trent: So Facebook group groups are a very big area of interest of mine right now. So I want to dive a little deeper into that. So in our morning meeting this morning, we were talking about wanting to potentially bring some new products to market in our e-commerce business. And rather than do what a lot of people do where we focus on a product and then we try and find the audience, instead we’re focusing on building an audience, and then we’re going to ask them what they want to buy. It doesn’t sound like it was like that for you because this was born out of just a very personal interest to begin with. At some point in time, other people got interested. Is there anything particular that you do or don’t do in your Facebook group that A, caused it to grow to 17 or 18,000 people? And then how are you creating high levels of engagement in that group on an ongoing basis?

Geoffrey: Right. So I think we just actually added value. That sounds like a kind of a buzzword. I think people just actually wanted a type of fast just fundamentally. If you think about the actual behavior, we just were a platform to allow people to engage on a topic they actually wanted to engage on. So if you think about fasting, it sounds kind of crazy, and that I’m not eating for 60 hours a week, or I mean now I do much shorter fast. But that seemed like a pretty foreign concept and people didn’t have coworkers or family members or friends that really would understand why fasting was even a reasonable thing to do.

So I think we just filled this pocket around, okay, here are a bunch of people online that actually read the literature on fasting, have practiced this themselves and are a support network for each other. So, the engagement is like just pretty organic in the sense that people just wanted to talk about fasting and get encouragement around fasting, which was not filled by the existing cultural or social context of people expecting to eat three meals a day. That’s the standard American, Standard Western diet. So I think again, so I think our strategy was just actually filling a gap in the world. And I think now we’re trying to sort of monetize it and turn it into more of a

group where we could actually monetize, right. I think, as opposed to starting to think about a group as a way to immediately monetize.

Trent: So the group that you’re speaking about now, I just did a search for HVMN on Facebook, and there’s the WeFast in brackets, intermittent fasting and metabolic performance community, is that the group that you guys have been operating since day one?

Geoffrey: Yeah.

Trent: Okay, because I’ll make sure I put a link to that in the show notes. So you put that group up, you had a bit of a — you had four or 5,000 people on Slack so obviously, right away, hey guys, we’re transitioning from Slack over to Facebook, go join this group. So you get some traction immediately.

Geoffrey: Yeah.

Trent: Did you find that in the way that you managed the group, did you treat it like hey, we’re the host and we’re going to do the most posts or how did you get other people to be active in posting so as to create engagement from the Facebook algorithm perspective? Because if you do a good enough job, then Facebook will start to promote your group to other people just because it’s an active group with high levels of engagement.

Geoffrey: Yeah. I think we just carried some of the same best practices from Slack which is like, hey, introduce yourself, are you fasting? What is your starting place and what are your goals? And I think if you just look at the history, a lot of people are saying hey, I’m overweight, or hey like I’m pre diabetic or hey, I’m trying to improve my performance. And I think you’ll be able to look in the group and see the level of conversation, I think people feel less intimidated to jump in and introduce themselves and ask.

But I think the downside is that a lot of people would come in and spam too and I think there’s a trade off around how open and how much of a discourse do you allow versus how much noise do you want to allow in the group too, and I think that’s something that you have to just constantly evolve in and spend time on. I don’t think it is magical there.

Trent: Did you find that there were certain members of the group that sort of rose to the — they sort of felt like it was their group to look after and their group to help you administer and these folks — maybe you didn’t formally make them a moderator but they kind of just raised their hand and said it’s been my personality and nature to want to help moderate this group.

Geoffrey: Yeah 100%. And I think a lot of it came again from bottoms up because as you get more and more media attention, people wanted to not just talk to me as a spokesperson around biohacking or fasting, they want to talk to other people as well. So we would just start soliciting, who wants to talk to the Guardian, who wants to talk to the Time, and people would volunteer themselves.

And as some of the same folks became more and more invested into their own practice on fasting and biohacking, they got more, and more involved the community. And it would sound as easy transition around okay, we’ve identified 4, 5, 6, 7 people that are engaging with folks pretty consistently on a daily basis, yeah we’ll just make you an admin, we’ll make you a moderator. And that has helped decentralize a lot of the moderating and curation part of the Facebook group dynamic.

Trent: Okay, so I’m going to take a very quick break to make an announcement. When we come back, we’re going to talk about how market feedback helps Geoff to iterate his idea. So the Segue that you’ve given me Geoff is this Facebook engagement. So for folks who have been following the show for a while, or maybe you haven’t, I own a software company called Flowster. It’s a software company that provides a platform for standard operating procedures and we give away free pre made, done for you standard operating procedures. And one of them is how to create a highly engaged Facebook group.

That was inspired by an interview that we heard on Social Media Examiner with a woman by the name of Dana and I’ve forgotten her last name. But she’s well known as boss mom and she has created an exceptionally popular Facebook group. So if you’re interested in getting that SOP for free, just head over to Flowster.app, and then there will be a free SOP page once you get logged into your account, you can see. And there’s a number of SOPs, how to build your brand on YouTube, how to perform keyword research, how to get major press for your startup, small business and website. Those are the four that we have now. So with that said, if that’s of interest, head over to Flowster.app and check it out.

All right, Geoff. So thanks for unknowingly walking into what was an ideal segue for me to make my full announcement. Now as your community grows, and you continue to evolve your products, what is the relationship between community feedback and product iteration? What did that look like for you?

Geoffrey: We’ve always been very responsive to customer feedback. And I think part of that came from my software engineering background. I think if you look at the supplements or CPG consumer packaged goods space, it’s always going to be pretty waterfall. We’re going to have this product, we’re going research for three years, do the super long, go to market planning phase, and then watch it and never tweak it. And in the software world, you’re always launching, iterating, launch, iterating, launch, iterating, launch, iterating. And we would always open source our formulations and our product concepts. So to me, that would just make as part of our DNA when we launched the business, right.

So when we actually had customers and actually had a sizable amount of customers, we would just serve and talk to our customers all the time to solicit feedback and new product ideas because I think – so anyway so just to finish off my thought, it was just like part of our DNA to just constantly iterate yeah.

Trent: Okay, so the concept of asking for customer feedback is simple but there is a right way and a wrong way or wrong ways to maybe ask for that feedback to get that engagement. For the period of time that you’ve been doing this, have you discovered certain ways that are more effective for getting good quality customer feedback and maybe some other ways that aren’t so effective?

Geoffrey: Yes. I think that’s probably goes back to probably something that you realize is that most people don’t even know what they want, right? So if you just solicit generic feedback from everyone, you’re going to be a bunch of noise because no one even knows what they want, right? It’s like full direct democracy, the people vote and it’s all over the place. I think we’ve always been top around, okay, who are like the super users, either that spike by revenue or by pedigree. And so I think as we’ve gotten to work with higher and higher caliber of people, we have focused our feedback collection, tighter feedback loop around professional athletes and folks that serve in the military because we see them as templates of users that everyone else would follow.

So I think it went from, okay, if you want to have 50 customers, well, you just got to talk to a few 50 customers. You’re dealing with tens of thousands of territory, well, you can’t talk to 10,000 people necessarily, but can you still talk to the top 1% echelon? So we have just different lists that we use, okay, the top 500 customers by revenue, the top 500 customers by number of products that has bought from us, and then folks that we know that are VIPs or professional athletes or military service members that we just talk to engage with directly and do custom feedback loops with them. So that’s a few of the strategies and techniques that we use.

Trent: Okay, let’s talk about distribution channels for a bit. Where do you sell your stuff? What are all the channels starting with the popular first and then maybe, if there’s 27 channels, we don’t need to go through all of them. Let’s keep it focused on the top, what accounts for 80% of your revenue.

Geoffrey: So primarily, our largest channel is our first party e-commerce website. So you can find it at Hvmn.com. Our second largest channel is Amazon. And then close to Amazon is our institutional direct sales business. So again, this is selling direct to professional sports teams and professional athletes.

Trent: Okay, and so you probably launched on your own first party site before you were ever on Amazon. Correct?

Geoffrey: Correct.

Trent: So you’re at that point in time, you’re generating traffic because you’re getting press coverage. You’ve got communities or you’re running Facebook ads, or you’re running Google shop ads, what are some of the other ways that you’re driving traffic to that site?

Geoffrey: Yeah, doing lightweights, paid social, paid SEM. I think those were kind of basics for e-commerce. But I think at that time, we would hit a lot of organic and a lot of — so we were never super heavy on paid acquisition. I would say it was always maybe 10, 20% of our monthly revenue was being spent on paid traffic.

Trent: Okay, because in the last year, well, for several years, but particularly in the last year on the Facebook platform, the cost of advertising has continued to escalate to the point where a lot of small businesses are having a real hard time being able to acquire customers at break even or even profitably because relative to their CPMs and CPCs, their average order value is just not high enough to be able to generate enough gross to be able to do it. Has that been an issue for you guys?

Geoffrey: Yeah, something we experimented with right. So I think you find certain channels and certain audience groups that work really well, and then you try to scale that and at a certain point, you max out or you plateau out. I think it’s been always like an evolving process. So we have a growth lead that manages that process and looks at the different audiences and the different CCL TVs as part of one of his big responsibilities. But I think you are right in the sense that I think it’s increasingly competitive, and I don’t think there’s a static, you set up an audience, set up a landing page and you have like this dividend and it just keeps working.

I think I wish right we all wish, so I think it is just evolving. So I think it’s a competition, a lot of people are hungry, a lot of people out there, hopefully, your products, or folk’s products, or our products have some sort of unique differentiating factor. So if you IP around some of our products and compete, it is what it is. I think maybe to jump towards where you might be going next, we’ve invested a lot of our energy on SEO or content. I think it’s smart that you’re running this podcast the way to get — build a channel and build a following, so I think it’s the same more like strategy.

Would you spend $1,000 on a Facebook ad or a Google ad, and then once that goes through, in a day or a week that’s gone, you don’t have any impressions of it. You spend that same $1,000 on a piece of content or a piece of YouTube video and it builds traffic, you get 100 impressions, I don’t know a day off of it but it’ll last for a year, what’s the better ROI? I think more sophisticated operators are making that calculation.

Trent: Yeah, I was listening to you and I wish I could remember the exact podcast so I could give credit where credit is due. But the term was content is like software. Software developers don’t keep coming up with new pieces of software. They take the platform that they built, and they’re looking for ways to continually make that piece, that platform better or more effective. Typically, they’re adding more features and functionality. Whereas I think maybe the mistake that a lot of content producers do is they’re just pumping out article after article after article after article, but they never go back and revisit any of the articles that they published in the past.

And if you think about for a given audience, and you think about the idea of cornerstone content, which is these pieces of content that target key search terms that you believe that you can rank for and there to a certain degree evergreen, well from a content marketer’s perspective, I mean, how many of those do you need? Like, how many questions are really being asked in the presales phase at the top of your funnel? And maybe you identify that there’s 10 pieces of cornerstone content that you could get several years out of.

But if you treat those pieces of content like software, and you’re continually going back to them, and improving them, and updating them, and changing them, and you’re also doing a really good job of promoting them, and putting them out in the channels in the ways that kind of you talked about when you were getting press earlier on, like who’s writing about this stuff? Maybe they’d like to link to this particular piece of content or what have you, I can’t help but think and I don’t have any data, unfortunately, to be able to share definitively, but I can’t help but think that that particular strategy is going to deal a far higher ROI and provide a far more consistent level of traffic than simply just renting eyeballs with Facebook ads.

Geoffrey: Yeah, I think that’s the bet but think it’s also just much harder to do that, right. Facebook and Google are brilliant businesses because it’s so easy to spend money on them, credit card, audience, go as opposed to doing this content where you need to talk to me for an hour as this and then post it up. So yeah, yes, I think that’s the arbitrage, can you get your own proprietary flow of traffic separate from the big boys?

Trent: So you mentioned SEO becoming a bigger focus, the way you guys are going at it, does it at all resemble what I just described? I mean are you identifying a list of keywords and think, okay, that one has enough volume in the level of competition we think we can be in, blah, blah, blah. So we’re going to write an article about X and then we’re going to write an article about Y and really going after it?

Geoffrey: Yes, yeah, I mean, I think that obviously, process innovation there, but I think the broad strokes are exactly how we look at it. You know, it’s like okay, I think of it, maybe an analogy, I like to think about it, it’s like a real estate play which I think is interesting from a software analogy. It’s like, okay, what pieces of real estate do you think are hot in terms of keywords? Obviously, your super competitive keywords are going to be hard to get into, but maybe you can pick off some of that. But yeah, you place your bets by doing keyword research and seeing where the traffic is already flowing, where we have some strange like heavy content there, and then do some link building, do some distribution.

And it’s worked decently for us where either — I mean I think some of the wins that we have if you just goggle NFL, TBI. So TBI is short for traumatic brain injury, we’re the number two article below Scientific American or above like Time Magazine, New York Times about something that is related to our products right, can the client with traumatic brain injury, similar products offer solutions for that, our Ketone Ester or nootropics. So that’s like one case of us seeing our strategy there trying to work, and then we get thousands for that one specific article, 1,000 clicks a week or month.

Trent: So I will be very interested too if you had the person on your content team who does this, one of the free SOPs that we give away is a keyword research SOP and it’s quite detailed. So if you would pass a note to them to say, hey, go check out this SOP, maybe there’s some ways there that it would help them to improve their process. And I’d be very keen on the feedback on that. I’ll get you a link afterwards. Okay, so back to the questions. So now, once you got some traction on your first party site and by the way, at this point in the journey, have you raised money from Andreessen Horowitz yet, or not yet?

Geoffrey: The main inflection point that we raised on was when we’re doing 80, 90k a month of revenue. We were like, okay, let’s scale this up.

Trent: Okay. And were you on Amazon before or after that?

Geoffrey: We were not, so Amazon was — we were not on Amazon. That was just all for [inaudible 00:40:23].

Trent: Okay. So we’re not going to talk a lot about the money raising process here because that’s a whole another topic in and unto itself and a little bit outside of the scope of the e-commerce podcast. So now let’s talk about the Amazon channel. When you first went on to Amazon, did you just have a person on your staff go open a seller central account, or what was the process that you went through? Then did the person managing that process have experience with it beforehand?

Geoffrey: Our process was perhaps not typical. So we had met with the Amazon launch pad folks as part of the typical meet and greet type of thing. Actually, Andreessen Horowitz does for its portfolio companies. So, we sort of onboarded through that channel and it was just our supply chain operations person plus Mike, my co founder so co managing that relationship. So it was kind of like an autopilot type of a thing. Okay, let’s get the listings up, get the A plus content up and then start looking at it and start doing some light A list spend. And I think we just realized that over the first year we started doing like pretty substantial revenue off of it without really thinking about it too much.

But I think it was probably a mistake in retrospect. I think if I could do it again, I would get an agency, or an Amazon specialized marketer on it day one building up SEO, building up reviews, building up traction.

Trent: I mean my company.

Geoffrey: Yeah, and I think as an entrepreneur, as a founder, you’re always I think half confident because clearly you must have some confidence in your skill or something that the market doesn’t already offer. I think the danger of being confident can be arrogant, okay, I can rebuild the wheel. And I think you just realize that over the last couple of years of trying to rebuild the wheel or whatever just struggling and learning about the channel, hey, getting an expert who’s been on the platform for 10 years to jumpstart your own learning gets you on the right setup is a good trade if you think you’re going to be in business for a long time which we are, right. Like you’re just why rebuild the wheel and learn everything from scratch when you can just skip that learning and get someone in that just download a bunch of knowledge into your brain?

Trent: Because you are engineers, you guys like to build everything from scratch.

Geoffrey: Yeah, exactly. I think that is part of our strength and our weakness. I think by being engineers, I think we approach a lot of the problems from first principles. We think it is great in terms of building a story and a brand, and also products that are like very strong. But I think the weakness, I think you’re just anticipating that you can oftentimes just rebuild wheels; I don’t want to be rebuilding.

Trent: Yeah, and I’m not throwing engineers under the bus. My wife is a double chemical electrical engineer. So I love engineers, literally.

Geoffrey: Yeah, an engineer.

Trent: But yes, I think engineers are famous for wanting to rebuild or build everything from scratch themselves, because it’s somehow better or they perceive it to be better.

Geoffrey: Yeah, I think that’s like a — it’s an ego defense; it’s an ego problem I think that doesn’t need to be there. I think it’s a weakness. I think just treat it rationally. Like if it’s why do you think you build better than scratch? Okay, maybe you actually can, but how long is it going to take, are you trying to really build a best possible Amazon framework or triple the best actual end product, right?

Make the actual dollar investment, time investment calculation if you really want to get quantitative with it, and it’s really, okay, I can spend a quarter million dollars, half million dollars learning all this stuff, or just bring on a firm or agency to do that for you. Maybe the budgets are high, but you can make that kind of mathematical calculations, justify it for yourself. And then once you get comfortable with the numbers, like okay, pretty simple business decision.

Trent: I would agree completely, and once again, you’ve given me a segue to my second and final announcement. As is no secret by now, one of the businesses that I own is an Amazon third party seller. If you are a brand and you’re looking for a partner to help you be more successful on Amazon, to clean up the problems on Amazon, to get rid of unauthorized sellers, to get map under control, that’s all the kind of stuff that our firm does. And you can just reach out to me directly at Trent@brightideas.co.

So before we conclude Geoff, is there — if you were interviewing yourself because you have this huge body of knowledge and experience in your head that obviously I’m not privy to unless I ask all the right questions to pull the nuggets out, is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you would ask yourself that would, in your opinion, make this interview better than it has been so far?

Geoffrey: I would just ask, what are broad principles that you’ve learned over the last four or five years operating a reasonably sized ecommerce business? And I think my answer to that would be one of the main problems I’ve been thinking about a lot is just finding the 80/20, the Pareto principle of work that actually drives real results, right. And I think to make it a little more tactical, for example, on Amazon I’m sure you know that there’s like probably like 15 things you could do and all reasonable things to do, but probably two or three of them to arrive at 80/20 results.

If you get two three things right, that’s like a bulk of the value that you’re offering. I think from the outside, you don’t know exactly what the two, three things are because there’s a lot of things to do. There’s probably like two, three main things that actually move the needle and everything else is a little bit of a leaf node on top of that. And I think as you’re starting off building traction, building customer base, just being really clear, really, I don’t want to say ruthless, but I think that’s kind of the right emotional frame around it. You just got to be really, really clear with yourself what actually is moving the needle and what is hopeful optimistic or distracting work.

And if you can I think stack up enough 80/20s on top of each other, you move a lot faster. And I think that’s I think the brilliance of things that just kept growing really, really quickly. All the great companies that have grown really, really quickly are not perfect from day one as we all know. You read everyone’s autobiography is always just like some crazy slog and battle, but they probably got one, two things right, really, really, really right. And they focused on it and they stacked up that more and more. And then they had to get scaling, they had more and more people to like fill up their weaknesses of the remaining 20. So I think if I could give myself advice for five years ago, just be really, really clear what the 80/20 is for each of your channels, each of your initiatives.

Trent: So there’s actually a book that I’m almost done now called High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard. And I’ve never actually been much of a fan of him until this particular book. He did a study on a large number of highly successful people to identify what habits is it that they all have in common, and he boiled it down to six habits. And one of those six habits is the habit of clarity. Sorry, well, clarity is one of them, but the habit of productivity. And he talked about something called PQO, which is prolific quality output.

So, I’ll just use me as an example because it’s the easy example because it’s top of mind right now. A huge part of what I do is building an audience to generate leads for my Amazon business, to generate leads for my software company so I have a personal brand. So what is the highest and best use of my time is to create content that would be relevant and interesting, and helpful to the audience that I’m trying to attract. Okay, so that’s my PQO. But then what are the five major moves that I can do to become the most successful in each of the buckets that I’m trying to be in? Here I’ll shift and I’ll give Brendon’s example that he gave in the book. He wanted to become a bestselling author.

And there’s all sorts of things that you could be doing. But he went out and interviewed a bunch of other New York Times bestselling authors, and was able to identify those five things, five things that you absolutely had to do. One you had to finish the book. That one is seemingly obvious, but a lot of authors struggle to get it done. Second of all, you got to get an agent. Third of all, you need to blog to build an email list. Fourth, you need to put up a web page where people can go and make preorders. And then five, you’ve got to get other authors who have an audience to help you to promote your book to their audience.

That is it. That is the five — I mean you can go to literary conferences, you can do interviews on the radio, you can do all these other things which will make you feel busy and maybe even productive. But there’s no data to suggest that those things will have a meaningful contribution to the goal of making your book a New York Times bestselling book. So I bring this up only because I guess I’m recommending the book because myself and my team upstairs have been getting a tremendous amount of value. We actually went so far, one of the people on our team is kind of creative, so we got these silly little things made.

And the people — I mean me I just close my door so no one can come in. But everyone upstairs is in a shared open space. So they’ll stick this thing on their computer and they schedule their PQO time. So, 60% of your time should be focused on PQO because there’s email, there’s meetings, there’s all this other stuff, that’s the other 40%. But the 60% and what we try and do at least in our organization is be focused on that in the morning so you can ‘win’ the morning each and every day, because that’s what moves the needle the most, so I offer that up. Maybe you haven’t read that book, maybe you’d like to, or hopefully some people in the audience may be interested in because I think we all struggle with everyone is busy, but are we effective, because the two are not synonymous?

Geoffrey: Yeah, I think he put it, I think you reframe or I think the book rephrases kind of the sentiment that I think is important. I think really being clear and ruthless on what is productive, what is effective, and then focusing on what’s effective and it’s absolutely right.

Trent: Yeah. All right, Geoff. Well, I want to thank you very much for coming and doing my first video episode in a good long time going forward, because YouTube is a big focus of mine. We’re going to be doing a lot more of these video podcasts. So thank you very much for making some time. If there’s anyone out there who would like to get in touch with you, perhaps to talk about a joint venture or whatever, is there a way that they can do that?

Geoffrey: Yeah. I’m on Twitter @GeoffreyWoo, G-E-O-F-F-R-E-Y-W-O-O or just find us at Hvmn.com; those are easy ways to get a hold of me.

Trent: So @Geoffrey and that was E-O-F-F-R-E-Y.

Geoffrey: Yeah, Geoffrey being spelled the English way.

Trent: Yeah, @GeoffreyWoo, okay very good. Thanks Geoff.

Geoffrey: All right, thanks Trent.

Trent: To get to the show notes for today’s episode, go to Brightideas.co/253. If you enjoyed this episode, please do me a solid and head on over to iTunes, just go to Brightideas.co/iTunes where you can leave a five star review as doing so is the number one way that you can express your gratitude and appreciation to my guest and to myself for producing the episode. If you’d like to connect with me to ask questions about selling on Amazon or about e-commerce in general, I would strongly encourage you to come and become a member of our Facebook group. You can do so at Brightideas.co/Facebook. And if you haven’t yet checked out one of my Daily Nugget series videos on YouTube, you can do that at Brightideas.co/YouTube. So thanks very much for tuning in, and take care and we’ll see you in another episode soon. Bye-Bye.

Questions Asked During the Interview

  • Who are you and what do you do?
  • Tell me about where your company is at today?
  • How did you come up with the original idea?
  • How did you get all the press coverage?
  • Did you originally have the intention to start a company?
  • What did you do to start building an audience prior to product being produced?
  • How did you generate your first 100 sales?
  • How does FB play a role in your community?
  • How did market feedback cause you to iterate your idea?
  • What is your largest sales channel today?
  • Where did you launch first?
  • Did you raise money?
  • How long after that did you launch on Amazon?
  • How did you launch on Amazon?

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Today’s Guest

Geoffrey Woo is co-founder and CEO of HVMN, a human performance research company that makes nutrition and supplements for elite performance in sport, cognition, and military. HVMN makes HVMN Ketone, the world’s first ketone ester drink based on technology developed in a DARPA program to enhance soldier performance. HVMN also organizes WeFast (one of the first online intermittent fasting communities) & the HVMN Podcast. Geoff holds a BS with Honors and Distinction in Computer Science from Stanford University.

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