Only a few months into their initial launch of functional gums and mints, Neuro has already made noise on Time Magazine, CNN, TV shows, Dr. Oz, and Shark Tank. Its unique brand proposition, complemented by sustained efforts on how to get press coverage, became Kent Yoshimura’s formula for his start-up’s accelerated success.
In fact, Neuro is reaping the benefits of early media presence to this day, with website visits averaging 250,000 per month and sales of 15 million pieces to date.
How did they do it?
In this episode, Kent, CEO and co-founder of Neuro, talks about the role of press coverage in driving a business’s growth. He also shares tried and tested techniques in building product credibility and widening customer base through optimizing your website and acquiring high-value customers.
Tune in to the podcast if you’re interested in learning more about Neuro’s marketing and PR strategies.
Click here to read transcript
[03:15] Hey, Kent, welcome to the show.
- Hey, how’s it going?
[03:19] Very well, thank you. Thanks for making some time to come and be on the Bright Ideas Podcast to share with the audience the very exciting journey that you guys have had so far. So for folks in my audience who maybe haven’t heard of your product, your company, or you; let’s start with the basics. Who are you, and what does your company make and sell?
- Yeah. I am the co-founder and CEO of a company called Neuro, which makes functional gum and functional mints. So what that basically means is we take supplements and put them into a much more approachable format, in gum and mint, which you could carry around with you wherever you go.
[04:01] Nice. And so, as we were discussing beforehand, I was telling you that sometimes I get a little drowsy like many people do at three in the afternoon. But I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t necessarily want to pound back on energy drinks because it’s just going to give me the jitters. Your product, I think you mentioned, is an ideal solution for the mid-afternoon drowsiness without the undesirable side effects?
- Yeah, I mean, if you look at energy drinks and the stigma that’s already around it, for good reason; it’s still the sugar, or it’s like overly-packed with caffeine. And for us, that’s not what we’re trying to do. If we take the science element and be like, “Hey, we’re not going to burn out any of your adenosine hands or like any of your… It’s the side of your body that is going to get withdrawal from any of these compounds and just give you a nice, moderate amount to keep you going for the entire day.” Then you could chew our product like it is—a gum or mint—and you’re going to get sustained energy or sustain, you know, Calm & Clarity, which is our other product, throughout the day. And ideally, what we want to do is, how do you take the medicine cabinet and—similar to the concept of microdosing versus overdosing or underdosing—but taking the medicine cabinet, all the supplements and things that people will take for health in there and putting them in your pocket. And, you know, it takes a lot of R&D to be able to do it in such a small format that requires the product to taste good. But hopefully, eventually, we’ll get to a point where we are able to just replace supplements and make them something that becomes a natural part of daily life for people.
[05:46] When did you start the company?
- Ryan and I started in 2013 officially, but we didn’t launch our product until two years later.
[05:58] So the first two years, it was just a side gig, and you were basically doing R&D? Or what was what was happening during those two years?
- I mean, it’s a combination of R&D, not having enough capital because we’re funding it ourselves. And I mean, back then, you know, I knew nothing about business. It was like, “Hey, this will be a great idea if we put stuff in gum and mints. And in that process, it was like, okay, working other jobs, making sure that, you know, we can fund it to get the smallest batch possible and seeing where we can go with it. And, you know, thankfully, when we launched, the community in Reddit I was a part of kind of picked it up, and it started building itself up naturally. A lot of news outlets picked us up, and I would say it was just like serendipitous. You know, we didn’t know anything about business, and we didn’t approach it in the business sense, but it very organically grew into itself.
[07:00] Since then, you’ve been on Shark Tank, Joe Rogan’s a big fan of your stuff. More recently, just on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine. So there’s a lot of good stuff that’s been happening for your fledgling organization. In terms of, you know, size, revenue, customer something, can you describe roughly where you’re at?
- Yeah, I mean, I could say that we’re probably closing in close to like 15 million pieces sold now, at this point. The last three months have been the best months yet. We’re a little… we’re ¾ of the way there, let’s say, to—is it six or eight-figures. So, you know, and we don’t have a burn rate. So we’re slightly cash flow positive as a business as well. So we’re not trying to approach it in a way where it’s overly, like not to call out companies, but like the Dollar Shave Club model doesn’t really work anymore within CPG, where you could pump so much money into direct marketing, and you could be burning almost a million dollars a month in the hopes of getting an acquisition, that’s, you know, five extra revenue. Like, for Ryan and I, this is a product that’s so embedded into our lifestyle, that even if we don’t get acquired, and this is something that we could continue to make into a cash cow/ingrained into everything we do, then we’d be happy.
[08:38] Yeah. Yeah, I can fully relate to that. I have the same feelings about my software company. Sure, it would be nice to be acquired for a big fat multiple and right off into the sunset, but before that happens, let’s make sure that we’ve got a really great cash generation company that we really enjoy running and a culture and a great team and all the stuff that makes going to work fun.
- Yeah. I mean, you’re doing it every day. You don’t want to feel trapped. I wake up, and I feel like I’m just living my life. It’s great.
[09:07] Yep, absolutely. Alright, so that we can make this episode as action-packed with what I like to call “golden nuggets” as we can because, you know, it’s always my promise to my audience is I want them to not only be inspired by these interviews but to learn from them and to be able to implement things that they learned on the show in their business ideally today.
Let’s start to unpack the business and what made it grow and so forth. So let’s talk about revenue split first. I know you sell on Amazon—because I’m looking at it right now—and you’ve got a lot of reviews on the NeuroGum. The blue one, 1254 reviews, which is fabulous with an average rating of four stars. So well done. What percentage of your business comes from Amazon versus your own direct to consumer website versus if you are in brick and mortar—and I don’t know if you are?
- Brick and mortar probably used to make up about 20%. That dropped pretty significantly because of what’s happening now. So it’s closer to 10%—still, which is nice. Amazon makes up a huge portion of our business, like over 60%, and the rest comes from our website or, you know, small things here and there. Affiliate makes up about 8%.
[10:25] Okay, so let’s talk about the big channel first—Amazon. Tell me about how you manage that channel. Are you doing 1P, 3P? Or your own third-party seller? Do you have other sellers? What does it look like?
- So we don’t have other sellers. We are 100% Prime, and we work with like a launchpad account manager as well as our own account manager, but I would not depend on any of those. They never get back to you. But Prime does offer you a lot of benefits versus if you’re managing it yourself and selling yourself.
[10:57] So when you say “Prime,” I want to make sure there’s no confusion on the terminology, do you have your own Amazon Seller Central account that you’re selling through?
[11:06] Or selling to Amazon and they’re selling the product?
- We are not Vendor Central, which is selling to Amazon. We are Seller Central so that we can manage inventory—well, Vendor Central allows us to manage inventory also because they’ll just buy in bulk—but we operate as Seller Central. We sell into, or we ship from our manufacturing plant straight to the Amazon fulfillment houses. And if we ever do run out of product, then we could easily switch to merchant fulfilled from our own 3PL. So we like that flexibility versus having to do inventory runs that are dependent on Amazon buying a certain amount from us. So I think we’re going to stick with Seller Central for the time being.
[11:54] in terms of your use of Seller Central, have you… it’s been a couple of years now, so I would assume that perhaps you’ve identified some best practices, or maybe you’ve made some huge mistakes that you don’t want to make anymore. What types of insights can you share for the other brands that are listening that may not yet be selling via their own Seller Central account? Maybe, they’re either not on Amazon, or they’ve got X number of third-party sellers who are selling their stuff, or maybe they’re even doing Vendor Central, and they’re not very happy with it.
- Yeah. Amazon operates in a black box, which is very frustrating, as you know. And one of the things, however, it is a very, very flexible and easy platform to manage on your own. So, for us, we depended on a third-party seller early on because we thought it was going to be this crazy thing that had to be managed. Then suddenly we took it on and, you know, we could clock better top-line revenue ourselves; we could do management ourselves.
And so, I highly encourage people to just take on Amazon on their own and learn from it first and foremost, like with anything in life. But—two is—oh, man, I have a lot of things to say about Amazon just in general. But, the biggest thing with Amazon has always just been like micro-optimization as it changes for us. And with us to, like we have Brand Registry, thankfully. We have our account managers, thankfully, and all those things have helped prevent third-party sellers from ever selling on our platform. But whenever you do run into those programs or problems, getting an understanding of like how to win the Buy Box, at least, you know how to reach out to your account manager in a very specific way. Like whether it’s writing urgent and writing the email while you reach out, or whether it’s like optimizing your images in the best way possible. I mean, there’s a million things that you just have to be on top of them.
[14:14] Let’s go into the images thing because that’s concrete; it’s actionable. I’m looking at your images. You guys have done a great job. The mistake that I see a lot of brands making in their images is one, they don’t shoot enough of them. They don’t understand how valuable they are on the mobile shopping experience, which is the way a lot of people shop, and all they do is product shots. So what are you doing specifically—for people who don’t have the benefit of looking at the images on the screen like I do right now—what are you doing specifically with images that is working for you? And were you able to—there’s a word I’m looking for—attribute, a lift in your conversion rate, or your sales due to some changes that you made in your images?
- So I think with anything, not just Amazon, there’s a few ways to get someone to purchase a property, to sell a product to someone, and the barriers that they have to overcome is credibility—so social credibility, first and foremost. Are you a credible product before they even try it? Two, is it worth your money? So showing your image in a way where they are getting what they believe that they are getting. And three is, is it going to work for me? You know, is it a product that is just going to be useful for me? And if you take those three factors in, and if I’m remembering this correctly, on our website and on our Amazon page, we show the product upfront and personal with a six-pack blurred out in the back, so you know exactly the product that you are getting and the size. We have a page with social proof. So like the Shark Tank logo, the TIME Magazine logos, to show the social credibility that people are taking seriously talking about our product. And then three, I believe we have our ingredients or something like that on there as well or the size of the product, which shows the audience exactly what they are getting and knowing what they’re getting. So, yeah.
[16:15] You have all of those things, and here’s what the takeaway that I’m hoping the audience understands is while you have, you know, bullet points and you have an enhanced brand content down below with all of those things, for the mobile shopper, the first thing they’re seeing is the images. And that’s why it’s so incredibly important to convey those critical pieces of information as early on in their scrolling experience as possible because I can make the difference between capturing the order and not.
- Absolutely, yeah.
[16:48] Okay. Last question with respect to Amazon, and then we’re going to talk about sales from your own website. When you first…when was the last time you launched a new product listing on Amazon? And when that listing didn’t have any reviews, didn’t have any traction, didn’t have a sales rank, what activities did you do to build momentum and obviously generate sales velocity?
- So there’s a few things. I think the last time we launched was October of last year, if I’m not mistaken, with NeuroMints, and we’ll be launching a new product in like the next month or so. So I’ll try to provide better insight later. But what always works—well, what helps for us—is we already have a product that’s fairly established, and we could funnel reviews into this new product or provide samples if your merchant fulfilled into this new product. So that’s one. Two is getting your own customer base that exists on your website, which is very like—building a brand outside of Amazon, in my opinion, is so incredibly important—and a lot of people don’t do that. They just drop everything into Amazon and become dependent on it. We were able to develop a brand outside of Amazon so all of our customers that existed there, our email lists, you know, that are in like the hundred thousand people that actually read our emails. Getting those people to go to Amazon and write reviews for this new product, having like a feedback of some sort…
[18:31] Sorry to interrupt you, but how specifically are you incenting your email list? Because you could say…because I talked to brands who are short-sighted, they think, “Well, I don’t want to process my transactions on Amazon because I make more money by processing my transactions on my own website.” And while in the short term, that’s true, the downside of that, of course, is that you’re not leveraging that email list to generate reviews and build momentum on Amazon, which then gives you increased visibility to people who aren’t on your email list, and then you can generate a lot more sales on Amazon. So you obviously understand that there is a longer game to be played, and so you’re telling the folks on your email list, “Hey, go to Amazon,” during maybe specific windows of time, maybe you do it all the time—I’m not sure that’s why I’m asking the question.
So a two-part question. One, what are you telling your subscribers so that they will go buy your product on Amazon? And two, is that an evergreen marketing strategy? Or do you only use it during specific windows of time when you’re trying to build that initial momentum and reviews for any product listing?
- So there’s two different things. There’s segmentation in our email list. So all of our top repeat customers, those are the only people that get this email. And after you reach a certain threshold of repeat purchases, we send them to Amazon, so it doesn’t feel like we ‘re—you know, Amazon is so strict on the reviews that you never want to make it feel like it’s fabricated in anyway. So if you organically start sending your customers over to Amazon, those customers are still going to come back to your website and buy from you directly, like in the long run. I mean, we definitely lose some customers to Amazon, but like you said, the benefit of having those reviews are like different layers of credibility on a platform that’s as big and that’s easy to use, it’s going to have long-term benefits compared to trying to save like an extra 4% on margin on your website.
[20:30] Yeah. Okay, so you’re segmenting. You’re saying, “Hey, guys, go to Amazon. Buy our product. Leave us a review,” something along those lines. So the second part of my question was, for that segment of your list, is this an evergreen strategy or you’re continually trying to get them to buy on Amazon? Or do you just just do it for a finite period of time when you’re launching a new listing, and you don’t yet have any reviews, and you don’t have a very good sales rank yet?
- We—it’s rolling. So, I mean, even now, they’re starting to cut, we’ll have like little email blasts to send people to Amazon. Yeah, it’s not right when we launch. I want another thing. The way you always bring customers back to your site is being able to offer them a lot more with what you send out. So you know, for us, like limited edition stickers, like a chance to win certain prizes, like a better unboxing experience. These are all things that I think, one, makes your brand better just in general but makes it more, it incentivizes the customer to go to your website and buy the product compared to going on Amazon.
[21:52] So things that are high value to your customer have relatively low cogs for you, you include those on the purchase on your website to help them, over time, steer back. What about, what are you doing for people who—they go to Amazon, and they’re searching for energy gum, they don’t know who the hell you are yet. They find your listing, they buy your stuff on Amazon, but now you want to pull them back to your email list so that you can, again, build your brand off of Amazon. What types of things are you doing as far as inserts or packaging, or what have you that don’t violate Amazon’s terms of services to be able to pay customers back?
- You know, I feel like business is always skirting. Being a businessman is always skirting the law in some way. In the past, like at the manufacturing level, we would put an insert into every single one of our packages, so that Amazon employees don’t see it when they’re packing them in. And we would offer coupon codes that drive people back to our website, and I know a lot of people still do that. What we do now, which we recently stopped doing because Amazon got mad at us, but it was, there are messenger systems that allow you to get people into a messenger chat flow.
[23:12] Yeah, that was hugely popular
- To drive them back to your website, and it’s hugely popular.
[23:19] Yeah, you’re running ads on Facebook, which is putting them into a messenger bot sequence that basically says, “We’re going to give you this rebate or refund outside of the Amazon ecosystem,” so that Amazon would never have any idea that it took place. They’re buying the product on Amazon, you’re getting a review, they’re getting a rebate. It was a good deal for everybody except Amazon, and Amazon started to crack down on that pretty hard. Is that what you’re referring to?
- Yeah. You know what I’m talking about.
[23:43] What’s that?
- That’s it.
[23:46] Yeah. Okay. So one thing that I saw for a product that I recently purchased, which I thought was pretty clever. They put a basically like, you know when you go to the gas station, you get the lo—I don’t buy lottery tickets—but if you can see the scratch-away lottery tickets, and there’s a message underneath the stuff that you scratch away with your thumbnail.
- Oh, yeah.
[24:03] So what they did, they put that pack, that insert in their packaging, and you have to actually scratch it away to see whatever the coupon code, or the offer, or the URL or whatever the incentive was. And I forget which brand that was doing it, but it was a pretty well-known brand, and I thought it was a pretty clever strategy.
- That is clever. But again, if Amazon finds out, it’s gonna go like, “This asshole guy…”
[24:27] So I have. So when you say that Amazon found out about what you were doing with the messenger bot campaign and got mad at you, what were the repercussions of that?
- I mean, I think we have like 1600 reviews before on that one that has 1200 something.
[24:45] Oh, so hey took reviews off?
- Oh, yeah, they just start removing reviews. And we fought tooth and nail, but we never really got them back.
[24:56] Well, given going from 1600 to 1200 is a relatively light slap on the wrist versus going from 1600 to 0.
- Yeah. I mean, absolutely. It makes me wonder, though, like how they were able to track, like what their process was, and saying who was an authentic customer versus who was a marketed customer. Because that shouldn’t matter; we’re still driving people to their ecosystem.
[25:24] Yeah. It all comes down to their machine learning algorithm, I’m sure. I don’t think there’s human beings who are making these decisions. I think that the algorithms are probably looking for patterns and ever so slight shifts in these patterns, and that’s what raves a red flag. That’d be my guess.
[25:42] Like you said, Amazon’s a black box; they’re not telling you, and they’re not telling me.
- They’re probably not even telling their employees.
[25:48] Probably not, no. Alright. So let’s shift off now to your second-largest source of revenue, which is direct consumer sales via your own website, and the URL is—what is it here—it’s getneuro.com. So what are you doing? So let’s talk about your, first of all, your most effective source of traffic is what?
- PR for sure.
[26:17] No kidding?
[26:18] Okay, so let’s unpack that. Tell me about that.
- So, when we first started our company, when Ryan and I and also our current COO, Tyler, who was my roommate at the time, didn’t know anything about business. Well, I just remember Tyler and I just emailing every single media outlet that talked about any CPG product and with the hopes that they would write about us. And that, very thankfully, led us to getting picked up by TIME Magazine, Dr. Oz, and all these other people. Now, we’ve turned that into an automated process using a program called MixMax, that if we find a publication and really have one of our VAs just plug that, find the email of the person that wrote that publication that’s similar to ours, and throw it into a funnel where we could be personally emailing all these reporters about our product all the time. And that’s been a really good organic marketing tactic that doesn’t require any capital. So, I would say that’s one aspect. And then, two, is we actually have a fantastic, fantastic PR firm that helps us reach out to high-level influencers, high-level magazines, like, you know, whether it’s the entrepreneur magazines of the world or the Joe Rogan’s of the world, and helps us make use of that to drive traffic into our site.
[27:49] So MixMax. Interesting, and then Joe Rogan. Let ‘s—because everybody’s heard of Joe Rogan—let’s talk about how you got on his radar screen.
- I mean, so my background has always been in martial arts. You know, in college, I trained extremely seriously in Muay Thai and judo. I used to travel to Japan every summer to train with the Judo Olympic Team out there. I used to train in Thailand and fight out there also every August. And being tied into that MMA world, we’re receding a ton of product to UFC fighters. And Joe Rogan, at some point, found out about us and became a customer. Our PR team had a direct connection with him, knowing that. I was able to seed his product directly, and then their team reached out to us to see if we could be a sponsor.
[28:40] Okay. So you’re giving away a lot of stuff in the UFC community, Joe gets wind of it, tries it. In some way, shape, or form, your PR company assists in that process, and then it goes out there.
- So I mean, I guess we have to unpack that. I think early on in our careers, we were seeding products out to so many disparate fields that no one big influencer in any of these fields was able to tack on to the product, or no one demographic was able to tack on to our product. When we started focusing ourselves on just CrossFit and MMA, now we’re talking to like some of the biggest CrossFit athletes. Now we’re talking to the Rogan’s within like MMA space. And that level of focus, I think, is like necessary for all business early on.
[29:32] Well, what you did, I think there, was you created an echo chamber.
- 100%. Exactly.
[29:37] Because if you’re in a small echo chamber, once three people have heard of your product—if let’s assume there’s 10 people in this echo chamber—once three have heard about it, the chances of the other seven hearing about it are quite good. If you’re in an echo chamber of 10,000 people, and three people have heard about it, chances are not so good that everyone else is going to hear about it.
[30:01] Okay, and when you say seeding, you basically mean giving away promo product?
- Oh, yeah. Giving away product.
[30:07] Yeah. I mean let the product do the selling for you if you got a great product, why not?
[30:14] Alright. So you’re driving traffic to your site using PR. The call to action—so let’s go back to the homepage here. What is, I’m sure you’ve tested all sorts of different calls to action on the website and so forth, what’s working the best for you these days?
- Social credibility is big. Social credibility, for sure, is big.
[30:50] You mean the banner of TIME, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, Shark Tank, The New Yorker.
- Exactly. So like we have all the different people, they have talked about us. Moving that above the fold has increased our conversion rate pretty significantly on a ton. And we’re doing the same thing with the product display page as well. Being able to build up social credibility, we’re adding some lifestyle images into there because we currently don’t have that on our site. And like we were talking about earlier on the Amazon front, what are the barriers that the customer has to get through to be able to trust you enough to buy your product. We’re constantly optimizing and shifting those things on our pages with a baseline using a product. Maybe you guys have heard of a product called Hotjar that allows for how people are navigating your website. And again, yeah, constantly shifting to make sure that you get the best conversion optimization.
[31:50] Do you have an individual on your team whose sole focus is conversion rate optimization? Or is that one of the two of you? Or is that an agency?
- We have a digital operations person on our team, yeah, who’s absolutely fantastic. And he manages any of the optimizations on our site, as well as optimizations on Amazon.
[32:16] Okay. And do you have, for that, because I’m sure he’s got all sorts of responsibilities, not just maximizing CRO…
[32:27] Do you have documented procedures? Like in our organization, we have documented procedures for pretty much everything that we do. And so, if we were looking, with whatever procedure that would say, you know, run this procedure every single week, this is how you check your base level, this is how you look for a lift, this is how you run a micro-test, etc., etc., etc. So it’d be a very, very, very systematic approach to optimizing CRO. Does it run like that in your company? Or is it, you just rely on this talented guy to kind of like, throw it in this calendar and remember when to do it? Or what does it look like?
- No, no, no. Everything is system processized in our company. You know, whether it’s using Google Data Studio and being able to track KPIs that, on a week-to-week basis, or a month-to-month, or quarter-to-quarter basis based on certain changes. Recently, we started implementing something called a RICE score. So what amount of effort it takes to see the maximum amount of impact, including cost as well. So assessing what changes that they think need to be made and prioritized before anything else. We work with our digital ads agency to get a sense of what’s performing well, what changes that they think, need to be made to optimize their conversions from the traffic they’re sending in, or how it’s obviously affecting, you know, CPA rates or CRM rates? Yeah, there’s a multitude of things that we look at, and in business, unless you turn it into a system of processes, you can only rely on the gut so much with anything.
[34:12] Yeah, it makes scaling infinitely more difficult because you have to rely on finding superstars to do everything, which are just people who are just so insanely talented that they don’t necessarily need to process, but I don’t think that’s good for a company.
- Oh, they’re doing it in their head. They just so happen that it’s better if it’s put on paper. Then you can build management teams that way.
[34:35] Absolutely. Okay. With respect to traffic generation, so PR has been the best. Are you also, and you mentioned you’re working with a paid traffic agency. Is paid traffic the number two source of traffic?
- Yes, traffic is number two.
[34:50] Right. How far down is SEO? Or are you even bothering with SEO? I’m assuming you probably are.
- So, we are bothering with SEO. But I guess, if you look at our marketing and break it up into—no one’s looking for energy gum, you know, like SEO. Like we would try to target people within like the energy drink sector or like people looking for brain health, but since we’re such a new category, SEO won’t be able to drive the same amount of traffic as directly targeting someone. But SEM, coupled with our PR and coupled with our direct ads, has been performing extremely, extremely well.
[35:35] How much traffic are you getting each month on average to the website?
- How much…the last three months, given Joe Rogan and Shark Tank, that’s, I would say on average, probably like a quarter-million people to our site.
[35:56] Yeah, that’s a lot.
- It’s a lot. Yeah.
[35:59] Whereas the search volume for energy gum is only 1000 searches a month.
- Exactly. Yeah, exactly. I would say, though, that Joe Rogan talking about it or like being on Shark Tank, those are the things that create the significant boosts and spikes. And the great, I would say to anyone listening, don’t just look at the single conversion; always look at the lifetime value a customer will bring in from any channel because that’s gonna matter so much more at the end of the day.
[36:32] So we actually haven’t talked about Shark Tank and I’m sure there’s some people here who are listening who would think man, “I’d like to be on Shark Tank.” Let’s run through that. How did you get on the show?
- So early on, their producers actually reached out to us when we were about three months into our business.
[36:49] What? How does that even happen?
- They found us because of, you know, the TIME magazine, CNN, like the Dr. Oz appearance we did. Because Dr. Oz reached out to us, maybe like two weeks after we launched, which was crazy.
[37:03] How does that even happen? How does he even know you exist two weeks after you launch?
- Again, you email as many people as you possibly can, someone’s gonna pick you up.
[37:14] So there was…so you did allude to that earlier. So you and your co-founder had this concentrated effort of emailing everyone you could possibly email that you think would even be remotely interested in your story.
- Yeah, and the process, even if we didn’t have their emails, you could go to LinkedIn, find out if someone’s like an associate producer or producer and something, just get their first name at whatever-the-name-of-the-TV-show-is.com, or whatever-the-name-of-the-media-site-is.com, you’ll probably reach them, and there’s variations that you could do. And we just, again, just emailed so many people that that foundation of credibility was just built on us being personal when most startup companies don’t really have a PR agency much like us.
So anyways, the producer in Shark Tank reached out to us about three months into our business when I didn’t know anything about business. And thankfully, although we stayed up all night to create a video, they didn’t find, I think, our product compelling enough at that time, so they kind of stopped communicating with us. A few years later, we got another email from their diversity casting group that they were doing diversity casting out in Arizona. So Ryan and I flew out there in like 112-degree weather, did a pitch, didn’t hear anything back from them. And then a month later, the producers are like, “Alright, you guys need to get ready right now. We’re putting you on this season.” And they bumped us up to the very front of the line and, yeah, like it was an unbelievable legal process, but we hopped onto the show, and we’re fishing for the shark.
[39:04] Nice. So a little bit of luck, but mostly a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
- Yeah, I think those two go hand-in-hand. You make your luck.
[39:16] You do make your own luck, absolutely. I mean, when you’re emailing, when you say you emailed a lot of people, Kent, if you had to guess, how many people did you think you guys emailed?
- I mean, like maybe even over 1000.
[39:32] And was it you and your co-founder actually sending these emails? Or did you hire virtual assistants and say, “Here’s the criteria, here’s the list, here’s the message, click the send button a million times”?
- Oh, I mean, we have virtual assistants now, but, at that time, it was me, my co-founder, and then our current COO Tyler, who was my roommate, and who was working with us. And like, it was like writing every single thing in like the first few days, and then being like, “This could definitely be automated.” So finding the program like MixMax that allows you to input fields, and then automating the whole process. So, you know, the only thing we had to do was figure out who to write to, and there’s even automated processes for that.
[40:12] Do you think MixMax could be used—like, so for example, I don’t own a CPG company; I own a software company. Could I use MixMax to try and do outreach?
- Oh, 100%.
- I mean, I would recommend it.
[40:25] I will be checking it out, and we’ll be including a link in the show notes, folks, so don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize it or anything. It’ll be right there. Okay. Now let’s go back to—I’m just keeping an eye on how much time we have left—I haven’t looked to see if you guys have a presence on YouTube. Is this vlogging been a part of your strategy?
- We actually just, just started. So we have our podcast, and we’re launching another podcast this week.
[40:57] Why two? What do you need two podcasts for?
- One is just kind of a personal project that our COO, Tyler, and I have called “Rethink Everything,” and it’s just us kind of bullshitting with each other. And then the other one is more about destigmatizing mental health because we are a product that’s so concentrated on how you enhance your mind. So bringing on more high-level people—maybe you could come on—but it’s to…
[41:23] I’d love to.
- Bring on high-level people and seeing how, not in a serious way, just talk about their, either their vulnerabilities or ways they use their mind to get through tough situations and making it as relatable as possible. So
[41:39] Yeah, I’ve been an entrepreneur for 20 years. I haven’t had any tough situations. Yes.
- Easy flowing. So the podcast has been good for content, and with YouTube, we reached out to fitness influencers because we work with fitness professionals all the time, and we create workout videos with them. So that’s a very recent thing, in like the last month or so, that we started doing that.
[42:12] So here’s the…so I’ve been podcasting now for a decade. I’m pretty old school at it.
- That’s crazy.
[42:18] And here’s the dirty little secret. I think a lot of people who—I’m speaking to brands in particular—they might be thinking, “Well, I’m not going to start a podcast because, you know, I don’t know, I don’t need this audience,” or “It would take too long to build,” or what have you. And having an audience is nice, for sure, but here’s the really cool thing about having a show of any kind is your ability to build your network, your professional network, your ability to get access to people who would otherwise ignore you. Because if I emailed you, Kent, and I said, “Hey, I’m this guy, and I’d like a free hour of advice.” You wouldn’t reply to that email because, like, who has time to do that? But if I email you and I say, “Hey, Kent, would you like to come be on my show?” Obviously, you said yes because we’re recording this episode.
But what am I getting right now? I’m getting an hour of free advice. And if we, you and I, had some way that we could figure out to do business with each other and make it beneficial for each other, we’d undoubtedly do that, and that happens for me. That happens all the time as a result of the podcast. And I’m assuming that that’s one of the reasons why, with your YouTube channel, that you’re reaching out and saying, “Hey, we want to interview you or create workout videos with you,” because it’s your way of building that laying the foundation of a relationship, which could ultimately become very, very lucrative for you guys.
- Yeah. No, absolutely. I think the first time we talked, I was so impressed that this was, in many ways, a lead generation method also. Using your podcasts, or the platform, or YouTube, or whatever it is, as a way of just getting to know someone that could potentially be again, a high LTV customer or just a brand ambassador in many ways.
[44:04] Yeah. Yeah, absolutely, it’s a lead generator. The largest, the most success I’ve ever had in terms of growth, revenue, profits, anything have always come from relationships that I have developed as a result of the podcasts, and that’s why 10 years in, I still do it.
[44:26] And I like it. I mean, not every interview is super fascinating for me because I’ve done hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them, but occasionally, you know—like today’s interview is above average for me. I really enjoy this type of conversation because I know that I’m, one, I’m delivering a lot of value for my audience. And two, I’m learning, and I’m discovering new tools like MixMax—I didn’t know anything about that. And I knew about PR obviously, but it’s not something I’ve put a lot of effort into, and now I’m thinking to myself, “Man, with what’s going on in the world and remote work, like there’s a story for my software company, I should probably put more effort into it and figuring out how to promote it and do PR,” and as a result of talking to you, I’m going to put some more effort into that. So that’s always a huge plus for me.
[45:15] Alright. Let’s talk—and we’ll finish off with this because we’re kind of running out of time—let’s talk about your email funnel. So you’re doing all these activities to drive traffic to your site, to get people, ideally, to buy something. I’m assuming you probably pixel them while they’re there, in case they don’t buy, so that you can remark it to them.
- Yeah, absolutely. Actually, CCPA has changed some laws. We’re in California; you can’t do that unless they opt-in. I’m sure you’ve seen those like little cookie things.
[45:50] Yeah, everyone’s got their cookie thing on their site these days.
[45:55] So one way of building your funnel is through your remarketing ads. But with respect to email, are you only capturing an email address if they purchase? I would assume probably that’s the case.
- We have an on-site one that pops up upon exit, and again, these are a lot of things that I haven’t managed in a while, so excuse me if they’re not 100%. But we have an exit intent email pop up that’s on our site, and then we also have one that we capture through things like that. Yeah, like when someone purchases. Another way we used to be capturing emails was, we used to do big sampling programs, places like Water Palooza, which is one of the largest CrossFit events in America, or going to like an Expo West, which is a huge supplement, and Product Expo.
[46:51] You mean it used to be?
- It used to be. Exactly.
[46:54] I was at the last one.
- It’s crazy. It’s an awesome, awesome event because you just see the most random shit. It’s amazing. But going to those and allowing people to get a sample only if they put in their email address or doing giveaways if they put their email address, we have some different techniques on that end.
[47:15] Okay. And then you probably don’t manage this anymore, so maybe you won’t be able to answer this question. But within your funnel, are you segmenting, first of all? And if you’re segmenting, like, on what? Like how? What does it look like?
- So we use a program called Retention Science. Previously, we used MailChimp and then Klaviyo, which I think are the two biggest ones. But Retention Science is an AI-based platform that people like Target, Sugarfina, and a few others used, where it smart categorizes people based on their open rates, and once you build out the segments as well. And that way, you’re not bombarding people with emails unnecessary.
[48:02] Interesting. Okay.
- Yeah, so it’s two layers of segmentation.
[48:05] Yeah. I’ve never heard of Retention Science before. I’ll have to maybe see if I can get somebody from them on my show.
- Yeah, well, their CEO is one of our investors also. He’s a cool guy, Jerry.
[48:17] Oh, would you? Can you do an email introduction for me?
- You got it, man.
[48:22] Okay, cool.
[48:23] See podcast strikes again, networking benefits in one. Alright, so we will talk more about Retention Science with the CEO of Retention Science in a future episode. Let’s finish off with this, then future plans. So 2020, a year like no other, obviously.
- A year like no other.
[48:44] Yet you’re still growing like mad, I’m assuming. And what do you see happening in the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2021? Are there specific changes to your business plan that you’ve made as a result of COVID?
- Oh, 100%. And a lot of those changes are based on how do we push forth more to digital optimization and digital operations, rather than physical sampling programs. So all the capital that would have gone into sampling on college campuses, or in front of like a CVS, let’s say—that has been reallocated into influencer programs, digital marketing programs, and campaigns where eyeballs get. People will see our product in digital format.
[49:40] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
- We’ll see if, I mean, anything opens back up in early 2021 even at this point, but I think we’re gonna keep concentrating ourselves as a more digital-oriented business.
[49:55] Not the worst idea in the world coming from a fellow digital marketing entrepreneur. I think digital is the only way to go, but I’m biased, obviously. Alright, it has been a pleasure, Kent, to have you on the show. The company is Neuro. The website is getneuro.com. Anything that we’ve talked about, if you’ve been listening while you’ve been driving or doing whatever, will be in the show notes, including a promo code for a discount on your product.
The promo code will be ‘brightideas.’ And there may or may not be like a special landing page—we’re not sure yet—but if there is, we’ll link to it from our show notes page. Failing that, I assume that if they just go to getneuro.com and punch in ‘brightideas’—all one word, small case letters—during checkout, they will get some kind of discount.
- That’s it. 10%.
[50:45] All right. It’s been a pleasure to have you on Kent.
- It was a blast. Thank you.
Kent Yoshimura’s Bright Ideas
- Establish Credibility
- Build Your Brand Outside Amazon
- Create a Small Echo Chamber
- Systemize Processes
- Focus on a Customer’s Lifetime Value
- Be Persistent in Seeking Press Coverage
Kent shares these guide questions to overcome barriers to social credibility.
- Does your product have established credibility before a customer even tries it?
- Is the product worth their money? Will the customer get what they believe they will get?
- Is the product going to be useful to the customer?
Neuro met the above requirements through the following methods:
- Their product images are upfront and personal and show what the customer will actually get.
- They display Shark Tank and Time Magazine logos, outlets that previously featured Neuro, for social proof.
- They also disclose the ingredients and product sizes.
Kent emphasizes the importance of product images because it’s the first thing online shoppers see. Being transparent about critical product information spells the difference between getting that sale or not.
Build Your Brand Outside Amazon
When launching a new product, you can provide product samples or funnel reviews from existing products to gain traction.
Meanwhile, if you want to start building your customer base, bank on your website to grow your customer base.
Following Neuro’s example, here’s what you can do.
- Email your repeat customers to go on Amazon and leave reviews. Their reviews on a platform as ubiquitous as Amazon will increase your brand visibility in the long term.
- While capitalizing on Amazon’s broad reach, don’t forget to incentivize customers to make future purchases on your website.
- Steer them back to your website by offering special discounts, rebates, prizes, and overall better shopping experience.
Create a Small Echo Chamber
Sponsoring Joe Rogan became Neuro’s gateway to the CrossFit and MMA community. Neuro concentrated on this particular market and established connections with the most prominent athletes in the field.
Focusing on a specific demographic is necessary, especially in the early stages of a business. If there are ten people in your echo chamber and three have heard about your product, the remaining seven will likely hear about it too. But if the same three people have heard about your product in a population of 10,000, the chances of everybody else hearing about it is poor.
Having documented procedures allows Neuro to assess what changes they have to make and prioritize.
Here are some examples of Neuro’s processes:
- They use Google Data Studio for the timely tracking of key performance indicators (KPIs).
- They implement a “rise score” to determine the amount of effort and costs needed to reach the maximum impact.
- Neuro also works with a digital ads agency to evaluate the company’s performance, study cost per acquisition (CPA) and customer relationship management (CRM), and optimize conversions.
Kent says, “There’s a multitude of things that we look at. You can only rely on gut so much.”
Focus on a Customer’s Lifetime Value
Kent says this about assessing customer relationship:
“Don’t just look at the single conversion. Always look at the lifetime value a customer will bring in from any channel because that’s going to matter so much at the end of the day.”
The growth of Neuro is highly driven by the value and credibility of its existing customers. Shark Tank and Joe Rogan promoting Neuro products ignited significant spikes in sales, making them very valuable customers of the company.
Be Persistent in Seeking Press Coverage
It is common for a business to be unaffiliated with a PR agency during its early stages. To get press coverage, Kent and his co-founders started by sending emails to every single media outlet that could be possibly interested in their products.
They would even get creative by searching through LinkedIn profiles of TV show producers. Eventually, Neuro was featured in Time Magazine, CNN, and Dr. Oz, which became their jump-off points to more media promotions like Shark Tank.
Afterward, Neuro automated the process of sending emails through Mixmax. The company now also works with a PR firm, which helps them reach out to high-level influencers and magazines to drive website traffic.
What Did We Learn from This Episode?
- We learned how to make a product credible.
- Bank on your website to grow your business.
- Focus on a specific customer base.
- Systemized and documented procedures are vital to planning and evaluating performance.
- Measure the lifetime value of a customer.
[03:45] — Kent introduces himself and Neuro
- Neuro was formed in 2013 and officially launched its first product in 2015.
- Neuro turns supplements into gums and mints you can carry around wherever you go.
- Their product is the ideal solution for mid-afternoon drowsiness without the undesirable side effects of energy drinks and coffee.
- The company has sold close to 15 million pieces now.
[09:32] — What’s the revenue split of Neuro?
- Brick-and-mortar sales used to make up about 20% but dropped to 10% because of COVID-19 restrictions.
- Sales from Amazon account for 60%.
- Affiliate sales contribute to 8%.
- The rest comes from their website.
[10:25] — Kent explains how they sell on Amazon
- They work with an Amazon Launchpad manager and their in-house manager.
- The company is seller-central, meaning, they ship from their manufacturing plant to the Amazon fulfillment houses.
- If they run out of products, they could easily switch to merchant-fulfilled from their third-party logistics.
- This setup gives them flexibility they wouldn’t have if they had a vendor-central account and inventory runs dependent on Amazon.
[14:14] — The importance of product images
- A lot of brands don’t shoot enough images.
- Pictures are valuable in the mobile shopping experience.
- Convey critical information such as product size, ingredients, and social proof to build credibility.
[17:02] — How does Kent build momentum for new products?
- Funnel reviews from existing products to new ones.
- Provide samples.
- Build your own customer base on your website; develop a brand outside Amazon.
[18:32] — How do you leverage your email list?
- Neuro segments its email list.
- After reaching a threshold of repeat purchases, customers are invited to go on Amazon and leave reviews.
- Some customers are lost to Amazon, but many come back to buy on the website.
- Reviews on Amazon have long-term benefits of increased visibility compared to the short-term advantage of extra margins from website sales.
[21:19] — How does Kent steer customers from Amazon to Neuro?
- Incentivize purchases on your website.
- Neuro offers limited-edition stickers, prizes, and better unboxing experience.
- Previously, they used Facebook ads to drive customers into a messenger bot sequence that promised them a rebate or refund for purchases on the website.
- The messenger chat flow strategy brought Amazon to the losing end. As a consequence, Amazon slashed Neuro’s reviews from 1600 to around 1200.
[26:06] — PR as the best source of traffic
- Kent and his co-founders started sending emails to every media outlet that talked about consumer packaged goods.
- Currently, Neuro has automated the process of sending emails through Mixmax.
- Neuro now works with a PR firm, which helps them reach out to high-level influencers and magazines.
[30:18] — What’s the most effective call to action?
- Social credibility is essential.
- Being featured on media outlets like Time, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, Shark Tank, and New Yorker has significantly increased their conversion rate.
[31:29] — Neuro’s conversion rate optimization
- Neuro uses Hot Jar, which allows the company to see how visitors are navigating the website.
- A digital operations employee manages optimizations on the website and Amazon.
[32:27] — Do you have documented procedures for your processes?
- Everything is a systemized process in Neuro, such as using Google Data Studio for tracking KPIs.
- The company also implemented a “rise score” to determine the amount of effort and costs needed for maximum impact.
- They also work with a digital ads agency to evaluate the company’s performance, study CPA and CRM, and optimize conversions.
[34:39] — Neuro’s SEO
- SEO is not as effective for Neuro because no one is directly searching for energy gum.
- They would try targeting within the energy drink sector or people looking into brain health, but SEO won’t drive the same traffic as directly targeting someone.
- Search engine marketing, coupled with PR and direct ads, has instead been performing well for Neuro.
- Kent estimates their website has an average of 250,000 visits per month.
[36:32] — Kent explains how to get press coverage
- Most start-ups are not connected with any PR agency.
- When Neuro was just starting, the founders religiously emailed every media outlet they could.
- Dr. Oz reached out two weeks after their launch. Shark Tank, on the other hand, reached out to Neuro three months into the business, after their appearances on Time Magazine, CNN, and Dr. Oz.
- Eventually, they hired virtual assistants and automated the process of sending emails.
[40:42] — Venturing into podcasts and vlogging
- They have two podcasts. One is a personal project of Kent and Tyler, Neuro’s CEO, called Rethink Everything. The other show aims to destigmatize mental health as Neuro offers products that enhance the mind.
- On YouTube, they reached out to fitness influencers to create workout videos with them.
- Podcasts and YouTube are great avenues for finding people who can potentially be a lifetime-value customer or a brand ambassador.
[45:22] — Creating an email funnel
- There’s an exit-intent email pop-up on Neuro’s website.
- Emails are also captured when someone makes a purchase on the website.
- They also acquire emails during sampling programs like Wodapalooza and Expo West.
- For email segmentation, they use Retention Science. The platform smart-categorizes people based on their open rates. Once categories are established, customers are not bombarded with unnecessary e-mail.
[48:56] — Are there changes to Neuro’s business plan as a result of COVID-19?
- All changes are based on how Neuro pushes toward digital optimization and digital operations.
- The budget for physical sampling programs was reallocated to influencer programs and digital marketing campaigns.
Kent Yoshimura is a multi-media creative and entrepreneur with a specialization in cognitive neuroscience, public art installations, and competitive martial arts.
Throughout his professional career, Kent has directed content for global brands such as McDonald’s, Lego, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, AT&T, Benjamin Moore, Ford, and many others. As an artist, he illustrated Master Davey and The Magic Tea House, which was released worldwide at all Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf locations, and his illustrations have traveled across children’s museums throughout the nation. He has been featured on NBC for his large-scale public art pieces, the New York Times for his mural work, and in TIME magazine, Huffington Post, Men’s Health, Vice, and NPR for his Youtube videos. Most recently, he co-designed the immersive retail experience CAMP in New York, The Sixth Collection for Jerry Lorenzo’s streetwear brand Fear of God, and rapper Diddy’s 50th birthday.
As a martial artist, Kent competed internationally, fighting alongside Muay Thai champions in Thailand and serving as a training partner in Judo for Olympic medalists at the Kodokan and the Japanese royal guards within the Imperial Palace.
In 2015, he co-founded Neuro – a functional confectionary brand revolutionizing the consumable supplement space. It has been featured in TIME magazine, Dr. Oz, Shark Tank, Forbes, The Joe Rogan Podcast, Fast Company, and many others, and can be found in over 6000 retail locations nationwide.