In today’s episode, my guest on the show is an eCommerce entrepreneur by the name of TJ Ferrara, co-founder of Bubs Naturals.

He saw a gap in the market and started off reselling supplements out of his garage. He started reselling Bullet Proof coffee, and then looked at an ingredients to see what they were making money on. A friend of his was taking collagen, and they decided to start a business together.

He knew the audience was there and Google trends showed him that the opportunity was definitely there. However, the world didn’t need another collagen company. This is where the charitable giving model played a role. Certified B Corps. Patagonia. Tom’s shoes.

They decided to do 10% of gross revenue.

Back in Sept 2017, they invested $40K in their launch inventory and launched on their own site and on Amazon at the same time. They were getting 2-3 sales a day. Then Fox 5 News picked them up for a story. They gave 100% to charity over the weekend.

Full Transcript

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Trent: In September of 2017, TJ Ferrara and his buddy launched Bubs Naturals, a collagen supplement company. From day one, they decided that in order to compete, they were going to have to come up with some very clever marketing strategy. So that’s what they did. Shortly after launching their brand, the tactics they use landed them a spot on Fox 5 News, San Diego, and that had a huge impact on their revenue. As you listen to this interview, we’re going to unpack all the clever things that TJ and his co-founder did to help their company grow. Please join me in welcoming TJ to the show. Hey TJ, welcome to the show.

TJ: Hey, how are you? Thank you.

Trent: Very well thank you, nice of you to make some time and come and join us on the Bright Ideas Podcast. I’m excited to do the interview with you, get your story out. So, for the folks who have just listened to me read your bio in the show intro, let’s hear it from you, from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Who are you and what do you do? What’s your company all about?

TJ: Yeah, so TJ Ferrara, I’ve been in e-commerce for about now 20 plus years. Strangely enough, I’m 35 but I actually started my first e-commerce company when I was 15, been in small medium business, been in enterprise sales, been in enterprise integration and marketing and the early white on white text SEO days. I mean, I’ve played the entire range, I have seriously. I played the entire range and most recently I’m doing my own thing finally, actual product based company but Ecom focused and direct to consumer focused Bubs Naturals where we do collagen peptides and a couple of other supplements, MCT powder oil. And basically, it’s a product based company, health and wellness, and at the end of the day we give 10% of every sale to charity. So, there is a little cause marketing behind it too.

Trent: Absolutely, so the folks who are listening who may not be familiar with your brand, have some idea of how to what level you have scaled it, is there a metric you can share with us revenue or orders or employees or something so that they can get kind of some idea of where you’re at?

TJ: Yeah, for the first year, our first calendar year in business, we donated about $50,000 to charity, so I mean, do the backwards math because it’s literally 10% top line. So, first year we did about 500 but for the first calendar year we’re about double that. So yeah, I mean, a lot of a lot of factors play in that whether it’s Amazon channel or whether we’re opening up brick and mortar stores or anything else, granted this is e-commerce focused, we’ll stay in that lane but a lot of factors business. So we’re planning to do for 2019 my guess is about double that as well, so we should be in the two range for 2019, two to four hopefully, I don’t know, we’ll find out. Everything changes every day, I mean tomorrow I’m going to tell you we’re going to be flat broken on our face.

Trent: Such is the life of an entrepreneur.

TJ: Totally right.

Trent: So, how did you come up with the idea? I mean, did you have a background because basically the end of the day you’re a supplement company, did you have a grounded supplement formulation? Are you a scientist?

TJ: I’m not; I was actually a business school kid, which has not helped me out at all. So, anybody listening and thinking about going to B school, don’t do it, it’s worth let’s just go fail at a couple of businesses, you’ll learn a ton more, unless you’re going to Wall Street. But I started a couple of companies out of my garage basically reselling supplements. So, there was a big movement a couple years ago and I think kind of still is bulletproof coffee. It was like a Dave Asprey movement. People are putting butter and coconut oil, and a bunch of other stuff in their coffee and it’s supposed to supercharge them. I saw a gap in the market where most people kind of do and figure this out, and they go right after it, these guys aren’t on Amazon, let’s take these guys on Amazon and effectively just try to get a piece of the pie.

Amazon was a huge channel and you get a lot of consumers searching and it actually predominantly for us, we actually lose a lot of sales to ourselves on Amazon channel as well, just based on the feedback that we get from some of our consumers. And I was like, hey, why not take this thing on Amazon and build it up. And we did that and made a lot of money doing it. I mean, first year out of the gate we were making like a million a half reselling bulletproof coffee online, and I mean just being “retailer” of bulletproof coffee. And I was like, okay, cool. What are the main components that we have in this business that we’re actually making money on? And one of them happened to be collagen.

And I was like, okay cool, I don’t know much about it, I’ve been working out for years and in supplement as a consumer for a while but never really realized what collagen did and the benefits of it. So I started researching a little more. Fast forward about three years and I’m over a friend’s house, and I see a tub of collagen on his table. And I’m like, hey, you actually take that stuff? He’s like, yeah, it’s the best thing ever. My joints feel so healthy, my nails are growing like a Wolverine, he’s all pro snowboarder, he’s upbeat up and he’s like, I feel like I’m 20 again. And I’m like, cool. We should start a business, and like kind of joking but also kind of serious about it because I was itching to do something else.

We napkin math the thing out over the course of 45 minutes in his kitchen and at the same time, we both kind of looked at each other and like we have to do something cool for charity, so a whole lightning in a jar moment happens. And he knew the charity and what was behind it. It’s The Glen Doherty Memorial Foundation founded after his best friend, lifelong best friend and former roommate. Glenn was a navy seal, one of the Navy SEALs that died in Benghazi during the whole 2012 terrorist attacks. So, he is one of the two navy seals that died in Benghazi and one of the four sorry, three [inaudible 00:07:24] four individuals that passed.

They started a charity behind it to help transition special operations soldiers out of the military into the civilian life through scholarship. And the company effectively named itself Bub who was Glenn’s call sign in the teams, the charity kind of backfilled back and yeah, and the rest is history. And it was like, all right, let’s prove a model and see if anybody actually even cares about this. And lo and behold, they do and kind of been trucking along ever since and it’s been really fun.

Trent: Nice. So you’ve got so at this point in time in the storyline, you and your friend have decided, hey, we’re going to do this.

TJ: Yeah.

Trent: But neither one of you has created an adjustable product before I’m assuming ever; you’ve resold much like me. I have a business like you had, we resell other brands supplements on Amazon and we do millions a year doing it. And I’m actually thinking of launching my own brand at some point in the not too distant future. So, this is a particularly interesting discussion for me.

TJ: Awesome.

Trent: How did you get to the point where that you were creating because now you need to create a product and you need to build an audience kind of at the same time, some guys create the product first and they build the audience, some people build the audience first, then they create the product, walk me through what happens next for you guys.

TJ: So I knew the audience was there, right? Obviously from a preexisting product sales, retailing bulletproof coffee, etc, etc. And I also knew that the trend based on Google Trends for searches in this particular market were going through the roof. So, I’m watching the trend lines, I’m watching obviously the previous sales two years prior to us even entering this model where they were for me, and I was like, okay, let’s put two and two together, the market is already there. The education and for the consumer, the foundation is laid so to speak, you’re not selling something brand new to these people.

So, literally backfill a company around it but at the end of the day the world never needed another collagen company, there’s plenty of them out there. So, it really was a test, it was like, does anybody care about a company that gives 10% of every sale to charity? And you look at you look at the people that are kind of I would consider best in breed, you look at the Patagonias, you look at the Tom’s Shoes of the world, the people that are giving one to one model which effectively for Tom’s is 50 cents of a pair of shoes for a $50 pair of shoes. And for Patagonia, it’s 1% of net, net, net to the planet.

Okay, cool. People actually care about that, though. And that’s a big drive in marketing forum, or Certified B corps or anything like that. You look at all these corporations together, and you’re like, does this give them a leg up over everybody else? Sure. And then, internally, we’re like, well, what can we really do to blow this model out of the water? Like, let’s be the coolest Kids on the Block when it comes down to it. And if charity is going to be our component, how can we be the coolest?

And we looked at obviously, again, 1% of the planet, 50 cents for bringing a pair of shoes that they’re giving, or pick your poison and whatever component has being given away, and we’re like, all right, we’re just going to give cash to a charity. What really rings the bell? And then we were talking, how about we do 1% of gross, how about we do 5% of gross? And I was standing in my parent’s driveway a year ago, visiting them in Michigan, and Sean calls me, he’s like, I got an idea. And I’m like, what? He was like, let’s do 10%. I’m like, that’s suicide. Let’s do it, so we literally backfilled this thing around 10%.

And the internal joke was like, well, it’s like we have an employee right out of the gate, right? And we’re just going to consider Glenn on the payroll at this point and this is just his payment as working for the company. But it is — I mean, you look at it and I mean some people, I’ve consulted for years, and I’ve run P&Ls for people, I mean, anybody making up to $100 million online all the way down to people making barely a million, and I’ve rarely seen anybody carve out 10% for marketing, carve out a full 10% and just even using that as their marketing budget. So we’re already shooting ourselves in the foot doing that.

But it was like, okay, we carve out the 10%, we use that as a gross marketing budget, we try to tell a story around it, penny pinch where we can, and I mean, it’s really worked. Every day I wake up and no BS around that I wake up and I’m eternally grateful for where we’re at, and I’m still just completely be in shock where I’m like, oh my god, people actually care about this. People love our stuff. This is bananas. Cool. It’s not that I don’t believe in the product. It’s just that I’m really in shock. Like, I was like, oh we built this and there’s people there that want this stuff. This is amazing.

Trent: So, I’m going to take you a little deeper into the weeds yet because that’s what I always do with my guests and that’s why my audience likes to listen to me. So, let’s go back to the question of, did you create the audience first or did you create — like where did you launch? Did you launch on Amazon or did you launch on your own site?

TJ: So we did a simultaneous launch. I again, with my history just an Ecom and Seller Central, I was like, well, we’ll kind of do both. It’s easy right? So we launched on direct to consumer on our site on actually September 11, surprisingly. So it’s like anniversary of the Benghazi and it was a little symbolic so to speak. Then we launched on Amazon at the same day and just backfilling all of the inventory to Seller Central and turn everything live on day one. And it was around…

Trent: What year was this?

TJ: Yeah this was 2017; this is September of 2017 so almost a little more a year ago. And we took along, we got some sales, two, three a day type thing, nothing crazy, nothing to write home about. We literally bought 1,000 tubs of this product of collagen, manufactured 1,000 tubs so to speak and were proving the concept.

Trent: What did it cost for the thousand tubs?

TJ: About 40 grand, I want to say.

Trent: So a big chunk of money?

TJ: Yeah, a significant — oh yeah, we definitely dumped a lot of money in the company to start it, and I mean between research and everything else. I mean it was a good chunk, it wasn’t a small test model let’s say. But we get this stuff in the market and we’re chugging along in a couple of times a day what have you, and we get picked up by news channel, local news channel Fox 5 San Diego to tell the story for Veterans Day. And we decided, hey, let’s blow the model out of the water even more, let’s give 100% of every sale to charity for Veterans Day, why not? I mean what’s the worst that’s going to happen?

Trent: How did you get on Fox 5, sorry to interrupt you?

TJ: Yeah, Sean’s wife is actually a news anchor on Fox 5, but surprisingly that wasn’t the end, I’m sure they gave us a little bit of grace on that. But we actually pitched them solo without her help. Sean wrote a brief and sent it to him and said, hey, we have this company, I’m sure they saw the last name and they made the connections, but at the same time, we tried to take the high road so to speak and not call in a favor right out of the gate. And yeah, they picked us up and they had us on for live in studio segment where we got to talk a little bit about the product and kind of educate the consumer and give the whole 100% to charity for the day, actually for the weekend at the time.

And we get out of the news segment and turn on the phone of refresh, refresh, refresh. And it was like oh my god, we sold 100, we sold 200 tubs, we sold 300 tubs, and it’s just astronomical and it’s on our site and it’s on Amazon. And we’re like okay, this works and obviously Amazon like sales velocity.

Trent: Yeah they do.

TJ: Yeah, so they pick up on that velocity right up the gate, drop Amazon’s choice right on our product. And, it’s been it’s been going well, since.

Trent: So basically, what you did on the network, that’s funny because I was on Fox 5 as well years ago.

TJ: Oh, awesome. San Diego?

Trent: Yep, same one.

TJ: Amazing, awesome.

Trent: Same studio. So, the exposure that you got from being on their show was kind of the equivalent of using viral launch to do a big product launch. You towed a whole bunch of shit sales in a really short period of time, which then tricked or taught the algorithm that your product should have a best seller rank that was much lower than what you had before that and you got the badge, but did it stick afterwards?

TJ: Well, it did because we started — in any entrepreneur or any business that you’re creating from the gun, you got to ride the waves and if the waves huge, you got to keep going after it. So, we took that and took the Amazon choice and kind of what we configured out of that first launch. And Amazon Launchpad was one of the components of what they have kind of under their umbrella that you can apply for.

Trent: I think Launchpad is gone now though, isn’t it?

TJ: No, no, no, it’s still around yeah, very viable, yeah, crazy Bible. So, Launchpad was supposed to start taking applications, I think they were supposed to start taking applications. So we started September, their applications were supposed to be in November 1st, or something like that. And I had the calendar marked and I was like, wow, this is really cool. Like Jessica Alba’s company is on this and Califia almond milk, and there’s like all these huge companies are on it. And I’m like, okay, why not apply for it and see what happens?

So, I’m literally calendar refresh and like hitting the refresh button and the application page comes up and I’m like reading through. And it’s like we’re not taking applications till December 1st, and then on December 1st, doing the same thing in the morning, like 9am refreshing. And then it’s pushed December 15. And finally, the applications open up and it’s a massive application process. The undertaking is stupid. And I go through it and I’m like, I’ll take a shot in the dark. What else do I have to do, a week before Christmas, so to speak. And lob it in and I literally I get an email back like a week later, hey, we went through your application, really liked the story. We want to talk to you on the phone.

And I’m like, all right, sweet. Let’s get on the phone. So I get Sean, we’re on speaker phone in the backyard talking to Amazon, and they’re like, hey, this is an incredible compelling story. We’d love to be a part of the brand. We’d love to help you grow. We can’t tell you we’re going to make any final decisions right now but they’re coming up soon and it looks really promising. Okay, awesome.

Trent: So having 10% of your revenue going to this charity undoubtedly played a big role?

TJ: Yeah, it’s a great story for them. So January 5th rolls around and just kind of shot in the dark. It’s my birthday, and I’m sitting in Whistler in Canada. And I was like, I’m just going to lop a text out and see what happens. So I have the lady’s text Amazon, I was like, hey, I’m turning 35 today, it’d be a real good birthday gift if you told me we made it in the Launchpad program, like a line in the water, just totally baiting them. And she hits me back like an hour later, she’s like, yeah, you guys are in, and I was like, oh, awesome. That worked. This is incredible.

So again, back to your question about did it stick? We rode Launchpad them from Amazon’s choice in the Launchpad. And that turned us on the vendor Central, which then brings us from a shipping product into Amazon managing our own channel to Amazon then placing POS for product or for our product and taking it and doing what they want with it so to speak. So yeah, it’s stuck, it’s stuck massively because Amazon turned on their machine and they’re like, all right cool, we’re going to make this happen.

Trent: So, now that you’re on vendor central, I’m sure you’re aware that Amazon is pretty famous for doing whatever they would like with your pricing.

TJ: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Trent: And depending upon what other channels you are in, that can be a pretty big problem.

TJ: It can be.

Trent: How have you dealt with that?

TJ: So, previous life, consulting life, I was working for a company, umbrella company called Kering which owns Gucci group, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, name the luxury brand that’s not under Louis Vuitton and Kering pretty much owns them. I was consulting for part of their sport and lifestyle division at the time Volcom being one of the clients and Volcom had a massive Amazon problem, massive problem where people were taking brand new out of the out of the box product and selling it 30, 40% off, just poor channel management so to speak. But it happens when you get to a massive size.

So of course I looked at this opportunity, I’m like, hey, there’s got to be a way to do map enforcement algorithmically or systematically so to speak. So, I start a map enforcement company on the back end, pilot it, see what happens, managing Amazon’s pricing, all of the sellers underneath. Since then it’s been shut down. I haven’t done anything with it. But a lot of people still do that model. I think channel IQ is one of them. I don’t know what they’ve turned into now, but a couple gorillas in the industry that made a lot of money doing map enforcement.

All that being said, price protection, channel protection has kind of been woven into the DNA of our business of bugs since the very beginning. So, when we open a retailer, if we open brick and mortar, there’s a massive map policy to get signed right out of the gate. You can’t sell it online. You’re selling a brick and mortar direct because we don’t want to coming out of somebody’s garage all of my mistakes with a couple of the companies I’ve started and going into Amazon Seller Central. Next thing you know, somebody undercutting us 30, 50, 35, 75 because literally, it’s just two people that are selling on Amazon right now.

It’s ourselves on Seller Central to cover subscribe and save model, and vendor Central. And Vendor Central is 100% here with the price. So, Amazon hasn’t taken our product pricing and done anything with it. We’ve been totally fine. And again, because of the matt protection throughout the rest of our online sales channels that we’ve approved, it’s been totally fine. Everybody sells at matt pricing.

Trent: Okay, so that comes as a surprise to me, because obviously you understand that on Amazon’s whim, they could drop your price at any point in time, and aside from cutting them off, there’s nothing you can do about it.

TJ: Right. And we have had no challenges. I mean, fortunately, fingers crossed, no challenges with pricing from anybody else. So, we hold our pricing for a tub of collagen so to speak, it’s $43. We’ve held their price flat since the very beginning. Obviously we can throw Lightning Deals or something like that on but an Amazon has been 100% in lockstep with it. And part of the conversations when we got on with Launchpad, our concern obviously was the same thing, use service. You just kind of do what you want with pricing and it becomes a race to the bottom, how do we make sure that you guys don’t affect pricing? I know you’re not going to sign our matt policy; this is not what you do. But how do we protect this?

And they’re like, well, yeah; just protect your Seller Central channel, like, as long as we don’t have somebody on there that’s selling something for 22 bucks. And fortunately, it hasn’t happened yet. They’ve maintained consistent pricing. So, I would just say maybe dumb luck. I don’t know. We’ve been really fortunate so far.

Trent: Cool, awesome, good. So now Amazon is what percentage of your overall sales is Amazon? I’m guessing it’s a big number.

TJ: Yeah, it’s big. It’s probably about 40%. And that’s again between Vendor and Seller Central.

Trent: And the rest of the sales are coming from brick and mortar?

TJ: Direct to consumer through our site and brick and mortar.

Trent: Okay. With respect to your own site, what are some of the things that you have done to build traffic and build an audience for that?

TJ: Predominantly influencer marketing and then Facebook, Instagram has been the main sources.

Trent: So walk me through influencer marketing, how does that work?

TJ: Yeah, for influencers again, just given the nature of where we’ve been in previous lives, Sean and I, we’ve just had a lot of really, really good connections of really good friends with coincidentally a lot of followers. So, seeding product with influencers, people that may have a voice that’s well respected in a vertical whether it’s yoga or whether it’s men’s fitness or whether it’s book writing, it doesn’t matter, pick the poison. Again, Sean was a pro snowboarder back in the day, so he’s got some pretty deep claws in the action sports and outdoors market.

And honestly for us, it’s been a model where we don’t really sign contracts with the expectation of, hey, we’re going to give you a tub of product and you’re going to post three times a week for us and tell everybody this is the best thing since sliced bread. Our model is completely different. We actually just package up a bunch of product and send to some folks that were kind of in our Rolodex so to speak and say, hey, try this for a month. If you like it, let’s talk, if you don’t like it, no big deal, and slow rolled it, extremely slow rolled the thing with zero expectation behind it.

And the feedback 99.9% of the time was this stuff is the best thing ever, what can we do to help? And even then, after the, what can we do to help; we take a step back, is this authentic? Is this on brand? Is this an audience that we want to talk to? We’d probably be a lot better off in a lot faster growth model; it’d be out of control if we just jumped on every opportunity. But we’ve been controlling a little bit so to speak on it on the influencer side. We’ve got some really, really great people that we’re rolling out with in 2019 that actually believe in the product that we can effectively say, hey, we can make a mutually beneficial relationship or a 360 beneficial relationship.

It’s going to benefit us from sales. We want to benefit your audience with some sort of incentive or some sort of deal, and we obviously want to put money in your pocket as well for helping us out. So, can this grow as a whole in a 360 component opposed to just transactional that you and I are transactional, we’re just expecting sales back from handing somebody product and posting about it?

Trent: Is your store running on Shopify?

TJ: Yeah.

Trent: Okay, so of the traffic that arrives at your store, would you say the largest percentage is coming from influencer marketing?

TJ: Yes, social is our largest component for traffic driving right now, so it’s Facebook, Instagram, and I mean some of it is paid and some of it is just organic traffic that comes through.

Trent: So, for Facebook, are you acquiring customers at a loss or at a profit?

TJ: I mean it depends on the time of year. If you asked me this in March, I would have been like we’re losing our minds were 12x return right now. Something hit, algorithms exploded somewhere and the next thing you know, we’re seeing 2X, we’re seeing 1x. And we have some campaigns that we run that we see at about a 6X, retargeting campaigns do great obviously and we see some really, really, really good turn on that and we see some that are negative and we just internally and we kind of look at it and we’re like okay this sucks, we’re losing money here, but at the same time concentrate on lifetime value and we take a step back 30,000 foot view, hey, do we believe in our product? Do we believe that somebody is going to come back? We know this isn’t a onetime purchase. The most you’re going to get out of this is a 30 day supply. So in 30 days that’s our customer return.

And honestly we’ve had some customers and again, we’ve been in business since September of 2017, we’ve had some people place 18, 20 orders go through this stuff like water. We’re like, okay, this is awesome. We know what happens, we know the models there. So then back in the marketing, are we acquiring customers for a one time purchase or we acquiring customer for lifetime value? And again, are we positively impacting them? And again is the benefit backwards as well to where obviously we’re making sales out of it? The answer is usually yes, on all fronts. So, we’re able to stomach it a little bit better.

But going back to the consulting life of if you were a CEO, and I was telling you, hey, look at the lifetime value, 50% of the time they look at me and be like, see that door over there, you can walk right out that door. If you’re not making me money right now, I don’t want to talk.

Trent: Yeah, I know I had a question that now it just slipped my mind, so I will go back to my list of questions. Have affiliates played a role at all in helping you to grow?

TJ: We’ve done very little affiliate work. We do run affiliate reversion on the site for just affiliate tracking but we do very little with it, we haven’t jumped into that realm yet. And honestly, in  my “20 years” of Ecom, affiliates have done very little for me across the board, unless it’s like slimy affiliate stuff, but actual true up and up affiliates whether you’re running on — I mean I don’t even know if these companies are running but Commission Junction or Pepperjam all the way through to like [inaudible 00:29:34] link, some of the bigger networks that we’d be able to plan again even smaller ones of reversion, they’ve done a little bit for us but it hasn’t been anything where we have an incredible amount of sales, I’ve never seen it at least.

And I’ve had people that have managed the channel specifically for us and I’ve done it myself, and it’s always come up as at some point a necessary to have, you grow to a certain level, let’s open this channel and let’s move this and make something happen here. But it’s not the main sales driver and it’s never been for anything I’ve done.

Trent: In terms of manufacturing the product, I’m assuming you’re working with a contract manufacturer?

TJ: We do contract manufacturer in terms of bottling, in terms of packaging and final goods, but we actually work with suppliers direct. We work with the labs direct, we actually tried to vertically integrate this as much as possible aside from owning a grass fed farm in Brazil.

Trent: Yeah. Okay. So the labs, are they the ones that helped you to formulate the product?

TJ: Yeah, yeah. So, we’ve had a couple of houses that help us do formulations, obviously, all the way down to bottling, but again, we’ve sourced everything ourselves. So, supplement space is really strange. I mean, there are people that can do turnkey manufacturing where you just go to a house and you’re like, hey, I want a pre workout, and they’re going to ask you what flavor you want it, what color you want it to mix when you shake it with water, and how much you want the jug. And they’re going to come back with here’s flavor, you want a strawberry lemonade, here’s flavor two, here’s flavor three, tell me which one you like the most and it’s going to be 8.50 in a tub, and we take care of everything including labeling and here’s your artwork, and you’re on your way home.

We took the hard approach as we do with just about everything else and we went to source everything from the gun all the way down to are we doing labels ourselves, like who are we finding to actually print the labels? Are we doing offset printing or are we doing digital printing? And we really, really took the time to like immerse ourselves into the entire spectrum of the business so to speak, and understand what each component is. And again, we’ve had a lot of really good friends and really good help along the way to kind of guide us if we have questions.

But that being said, it was everything from sourcing collagen manufacturers and talking to those people and doing double blind taste studies in my kitchen basically saying, hey, if we put this in water, which one do we like the best? Which one dissolves the best all the way through to like I said, are we doing offset printing? Are we doing digital printing? What size of tubs are we getting? Who are we getting the plastic from? That type of stuff.

Trent: How long did it take to formulate the product?

TJ: We started the idea as a concept in March of 2017 and we didn’t launch until September. Like I said, we were probably finalized in about I would say yeah, probably August. We were actually in facility getting bottled and going down the line.

Trent: And for folks who might want to find a lab or find a house to do this type of stuff for them, what’s the best way to do that in your experience?

TJ: There’s I guess the place to get overwhelmed the best but also get the kind of best experience so to speak and talk to people in the industry, there’s two natural products expos that exists, Natural Products East, Natural Products West. Natural Products West is like 67 floors. You’re literally parking at Disney and going to the Anaheim Convention Center. And that is probably the best place to do it because you have everybody from craft all the way down to contract manufacturers, so people that will show you labels and boxes and that type of stuff.

And that’s probably the first place to start and understand kind of, if you’re looking for somebody in turnkey manufacturing, you’ll probably find somebody there or you’ll find somebody that knows someone there where you go up to a booth and you can say, hey, who does your X? CEO or somebody similar is probably there and they’re going to tell you, this is who you need to talk to.

Trent: Okay. The supplement space is renowned on Amazon for being insanely competitive, and there’s a lot of dirty poo that goes on. Have you been the victim any of that?

TJ: No, not particularly. In general, all of our products are single ingredients, so we’re not missing anything, which is a detriment too but there’s nothing proprietary in our products so to speak. Our MCT powder is MCT powder. We just wanted to find the best one. Our collagen is just grass fed pasture raised collagen, wanted to find the best one. We don’t blend or mix between companies who have multiple sources that auger in affect quality or anything like that. So, with that said, yeah, there are — it is a dirty poo place but you see a lot of companies come up real quick and people either running bots to add to cart or do weird sales tactics with them. But Amazon typically squashes those in a couple of weeks.

And I just rely on the long game at that point and say, okay, we’re going to see people that come up and grow real quick or have a billion positive reviews in one day and none of them are verified, and we just say, this is going to shake out at some point. No big deal, we’ll stay here for the long game because we have a real product, it’s a real story. It’s not coming direct from manufacturer in the Seller Central warehouse and doing quick turns or anything like that. But it’s an interesting space to play and I mean Amazon started their own supplement line.

At the end of the day it’s just quality, it’s what do you want. You can buy 16 types of cars, do you want — and no offense anybody out there, I actually drive a ford but do you want a ford or you want a Ferrari, which is where you want to be? And there’s definitely qualities across the board on those things. And that is the one kind of dirty secret of supplements is, yeah, you can pretty much put drywall in a jug and put it in somebody’s pre workout or you can put really high quality stuff in there as well.

Trent: Yes, you can. What about Facebook groups? Is that something that you’ve taken advantage of?

TJ: I’m a member of many Facebook groups personally and on a personal level, but we haven’t tapped into that at all. And that’s kind of been — it’s interesting because I was watching a recent Gary Vee YouTube of kind of his inner circle and they’re all talking. He was giving somebody a speech and like go after Facebook groups, and I think that was in his book Crush It or something like that too. But all that being said, yeah a lot of people do hinge on Facebook groups being great traffic driver, being a great sales driver. Being authentic to that community or whatever community you’re trying to dive into is a key component and we haven’t done it at all, but I would 100% be willing to at some point use that as an additional channel, an additional marketing component for us. I know a lot of people are successful on it, that’s for sure.

Trent: Yeah, I actually interviewed a guy, the founder of a small brand called Performance Nut Butter. His interview is at Brightideas.co/248. He made extensive use of Instagram, Facebook groups and then a Kickstarter and then he launched his brand. And because he built the audience before he built his product and have them buy into the process along the whole way, he had a loyal tribe, right from day one, that it went on Amazon and it started off with a really good sales velocity of 50 or 60 orders a day.

TJ: That’s incredible.

Trent: And it’s just continued to climb. And he wasn’t in Launchpad. He didn’t give any stuff away. He wasn’t on Fox 5 News. He didn’t do any of the things that you did. But because he put all that time and effort into building the audience, he had created essentially a reliable source of traffic for himself.

TJ: Yeah, I think that’s great. I mean, honestly, if we were to do it again, and I would love to tell the story, I wish I had somebody following me around with a camera 24/7. And I mean, just for my own personal benefit, to be honest with you, just like capturing some of the conversations that were had because I wish I had those recorded and just either some of the small bickering moments of Sean and I back and forth thing, or some of the idea moments and obviously celebrating wins along the way. Because it really is about the process at the end of the day and the result is great. I do love this company in terms of what we do, and I love the dynamic we have. But I do wish for historical purposes, I can look back and be like, hey; remember when we closed this deal how awesome it was. That’s super cool.

Trent: So, for anyone listening who is thinking, I’m a big fan of Facebook groups, and this has come about as a result of I listened to an interview with a woman whose brand name is Boss M. And I listened to her on the Social Media Examiner podcast and she shared her method for creating thriving communities inside Facebook groups. And regular listeners will know that I own a software company called Flowster which you can get to at Flowster.app, and it’s a software company for businesses to create standard operating procedures.

And as a part of our marketing program, we give away free standard operating procedures, and one of them is we took Dana’s interview on Social Media Examiner and we turned it into an SOP which is now obviously available. So, anyone who wants to go sign up you can get a free account on Flowster. You just submit a ticket and you can get this free SOP, and I’ll tell you it’s the one that I’ve used to help me to grow my Facebook group which is now growing like crazy in percentage terms and I’m very happy about that. So, maybe even for you TJ, if you’re interested in leveraging a Facebook group, I would encourage you to check it out.

TJ: It’s definitely something that will be on the radar for 2019 for sure. At this point I’m about done with this podcast; I’ve shut my laptop and cash it out till January.

Trent: Yep, I’m very close. I’ve got one or two more days to get all my work done for the year and I’ll be doing the same thing.

TJ: That’s awesome.

Trent: All right, well, let’s wrap it up here then. For people who want to go check out your product, it’s at BubsNaturals.com, that’s B-U-B-Snaturals.com. I’ll make sure I put a link in the show notes, and I’m sure there’s a contact form there and I’m sure there’s all sorts of ways to get ahold of TJ and his team if you would like to do so. And TJ thanks very much for coming on [overlapping 00:40:04].

TJ: Hey thank you so much, really appreciate it, thank you.

Trent: To get to the show notes, go to Brightideas.co/255. 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 guests 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 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 idea?
  • How did you create the product(s)?
  • Was branding important to you initially? Why?
  • Did you work on building an audience before you had a product?
  • How did you build your audience?
  • Did you offer pre-sales?
  • Did you recruit any affiliate support?
  • Where did you launch your product?
  • Describe your product launch strategy
  • How long did it take you to generate your first 100 sales?
  • How does Amazon fit into your eCommerce strategy?
  • Do you also sell on your own website?
  • What is your largest source of traffic today?

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Today’s Guest

TJ Ferrara is a seasoned eCommerce veteran with 18+ years of online marketing, operations and technology experience behind him. Combining that with a practical hand-on approach, his involvement has been leveraged and appreciated by dozens of clients, specifically C-Level, eCommerce VP, and Executive Teams. He has led strategic diligence, ecosystem assessments, performance benchmarking, site audits, operations analysis, and division resturcturing.

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