The freedom to travel—to be a digital nomad—is one of the many reasons people pursue entrepreneurship.
Chris Cage is the founder of Greenbelly Meals, ready-to-eat super-meals that provide 1/3 of your daily nutrition for a healthier and more productive day.
In this episode, you’ll find out how he started his business as a digital nomad in Chiang Mai, Thailand and grew it while travelling the world from Austin to Medellin.
You will learn:
- What kind of questions to ask to get the right feedback when testing a product.
- How to stand out when reaching out to influencers with your product.
- Why it’s better to launch all your marketing at once rather than over several weeks.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
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Felix: Today I’m joined by Chris Cage from Green Belly Meals from greenbelly.co. Green Belly Meals sells ready to eat super meals that provide one third of your daily nutrition for a healthier and more productive day. It was started 2014 and based on Newnan, Georgia. Welcome, Chris.
Chris: Hey, Felix. Thanks for having me, man.
Felix: Hey, excited to have you on. Tell us a little bit more about these meals. Tell us more about your story, what are these meal products that you’re selling?
Chris: I started them actually in my mom’s kitchen in 2014 after spending some time abroad where I was cycle touring New Zealand. I spent about three months on a bicycle just going down the length of New Zealand and I was camping out on the side of the road every night and cycling up to a 100 miles a day. Then, after New Zealand I came back to the United States and kind of a similar lifestyle I was hiking 20 miles every day and camping out every night on the Appalachian Trail which was about five months of that kind of lifestyle. Both of those trips I was burning a ton of calories and I was carrying all the weight on my back so everything, all my supplies, everything had to be super lightweight. I might be a week in between town so I’d have to carry a week’s worth of supplies and food on my back. At that kind of burn rate I was really needing a lot of food so I was kind of stuck in this position of having to carry a lot of supplies but having to try to keep everything as minimal as possible in order to prevent carrying too much weight. Yeah, we were eating a lot of food out there that was really high calorie. It was pretty junkie. There’s a lot of problem with backpacking food. I started to think of this ultimate meal idea and the ultimate meal idea would be something that would be nutritionally dense. It have a lot of not only calories to pack in but a good balance of protein, carbs, fats, fiber, sodium, a lot of your macro nutrients and it would be very lightweight and it would also be ready to eat, very easy for backpackers. In the middle of the day if you’re hiking or cycling all day, you don’t have to stop, pull out your stove, do the dishes all that kind of stuff. It’s something that would be very quick and that would be all natural ingredients. I had that kind of idea after doing those two long stretches of intense burn and camping out. Yeah, I came back and moved in with the parents and yeah I had to do that setting. I don’t really want to go back to corporate America. I want to start a business. I started working on that ultimate meal concept and then Green Belly formed from there.
Felix: Cool. You mentioned before we started recording that in 2014 you are testing the market out, you’re working you said with a food scientist at the time and did a series of soft launches to I guess just to test the market to see if there was the man out there for a product like this. Tell us a little bit about this. First of all, I love to hear more about how you connected to this food scientist and then tell us a little bit more about how you guys worked together to create I guess the different iterations or the various first iterations of the product?
Chris: Sure, definitely. It’s a good question because I don’t know, for all the listeners out there that have done product development or thinking about doing products development, I had no background in food or nutrition even for that matter. The only background I had like I said was I was a big backpacker and I knew what was out, I was familiar with what was out there on the market. I was much more familiar with the market than I was developing a products. That was an area that I acknowledge very early on, it was not going to be something I was going to pour a lot of time into trying to polish and become an expert at. I just kind of acknowledged that nutrition was something I knew nothing about. I tried to find a contractor and I knew I want a contractor versus an employee and so I scoured the internet for any kind of food scientist / chef to help develop this meal so ultimately I think it’s called Upwork now but at the time it was called Elance. I don’t know if you remember that when it was called that. There’s a food scientist and yeah, he helped me formulate the product and then we did lots of iterations and I took the product to different hiking festivals really trying to get some feedback saying, “This has too much salt. This taste too sweet. This is too crunchy, too dry,” all that kind of stuff. Then I felt confident about the product I guess it was about July 2014. We’re talking about soft launches of the product. I don’t really know at the time I viewed it like a soft launch. To me it was launching but looking back at the time I truly had no entrepreneurial experience. Nowadays, when I’m launching stuff I’m like I really have a lot more knowledge in how to and how to do it and know that at that time I really was not doing as much effort as I should have been in launching the product. Specifically what I was doing was I guess it was PR outreach essentially. I had some connections, very small connections with medium hiking celebrities, if you will, from backpacking so much. I kind of send it to them for some feedback and did a lot of cold outreach on my own. There’s a blogger, anybody who’s doing anything in the outdoors particularly the backpacking space I was reaching out to via cold email just saying, “Hey, I’ve got this Green Belly Meals, they are two bars. They’re packed in a ton of nutrition. Do you have any interest in trying them and giving us some feedback?” At minimum they would say, “Hey, it’s free food, why not?” I would ship them some products and yeah they would get back to me saying, “Hey, it’s too dry, too …” whatever or they’d say, “Hey, it’s great. Do you mind if I post it on my blog?” That was really how and I had just set up a raw template on Shopify, kind of out of the box Shopify theme and started generating some sales very quickly by doing that method of sending out free product to influencers. I think the biggest one at that time was actually Bicycling Magazine. Bicycling Magazine picked up Green Belly and did a full on, we’re actually on the front page of Bicycling.com. It was like this is really cool. That was the first stages of the launch back in late 2014 after we had the product ready to go it’s really PR outreach and really reaching out to bunch of different bloggers and backpackers and that kind of crowd.
Felix: Yeah, I definitely want to talk more about your experience of PR in a bit. You said something earlier that really call my attention which was that you knew a lot about the market but you didn’t know much about the product that you ultimately end up developing, this food products. The question comes to mind is that why not try to find a product category that you also knew about? What made you I guess not necessarily so sure but what made you be willing to take that risk and go try to build a product that you didn’t know much about even though you did have a lot of experience knowing the market because you are an ideal basically target customer.
Chris: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think after spending a couple of years in this business, that would have been something I should have considered more honestly but at the time it was just really the idea. I was like really set on this idea and I thought there’s a void in the market so I think particularly early on it’s all about the idea, all about the idea not necessarily the execution. At the time this idea was just going to … It could fill a void in the market so I really was obsessed with creating that product versus something that I might have known more about or anything like that.
Felix: When you don’t know about the product or about how it’s developed, product like this, how do you obviously you hire this contractor, this food scientist to help you out but how did you make sure that you were able to contribute your knowledge to develop this product? How much were you involved in that to give your particular feedback or did you kind of give the range to the food scientist?
Chris: A little bit of a knowledge of the market I was very familiar with backpacking meals out there so they are like a lot of freeze dried meals. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry, some of those kind of guys that do essentially rice powder and dried meat and dried veggies and you throw hot water in there and seal it up. There are also a million bars out there so I was familiar with a lot of the stuff that was out in the market just from my own taste buds. From there, that kind of gave me a little bit of confidence to know when we’re getting just even some very raw early stages products. He was sending me samples and I could generally guide him in like the 80/20 effect. I could guide him 80% of the way and say, “You know what? This is just way too X or way too Y.” Once we have that 80% product, the final 20% was kind of let’s get some other people’s feedback, not just Chris’ taste buds.
Felix: You went and took it to these festivals and you met with other backpackers or other outdoors people to get them to try the product. What was your approach? How did you approach them? What kind of questions did you ask to make sure that you’re getting the right feedback?
Chris: I guess firstly, like you would at the grocery store you see toothpick kind of things, chopped up little bars on a tray with toothpicks but I fit through on a big lime green afro. I just wanted to I guess draw attention and catch some people’s eyeballs. I definitely stood out in the crowd walking around hiking festival with a big lime green wig on. Yeah, just go up and say, “Hey, we’re launching a new product in the next few months, I would love to get some of your feedback, do you want some free food?” Walking around giving away free food really it isn’t too hard to give that away. Some people would totally just like you walk anywhere in the grocery store and you get a free sample, it’s just like, “All right, free food. I’ll move on.” Certainly there’s definitely a percentage of people that were really like wanted to give you their all and full attention about what they thought about it, what they are currently using, what they currently don’t like about their products. I really didn’t have a rigid system of getting, collecting feedback from people. I was really just kind of hand out the samples and see what people thought and see if there are any consistencies on what they thought.
Felix: Yeah, I think once you immerse yourself in the community around your customers you can’t help it but absorb the feedback they are giving you. It doesn’t have to be a super formal questionnaire or anything, just getting out there and listening to them will eventually infiltrate your own psyche and get you to understand their perspective a little bit more. I think one of the difficulties though is especially with a product like this where it involves taste you could get conflicting feedback where people might say it’s too salty, someone might say it’s not salty enough. What do you do when you get this kind of conflict?
Chris: Yeah, that definitely happened. We still get that to this day. We get messages all the time saying, “Make it sweeter. Make it saltier. Why is it so dry? Why is it so wet?” All that kind of stuff. I guess, yeah, you just got to stick with something, what feels right, what feels like a general common consensus, what feels right to my taste buds. Just run with it. You’re not going to be able to please everybody in the crowd. As long as you can please most people, I thought that was pretty good.
Felix: Yeah, maybe just pay attention to a lot of the trends, the themes and when it comes to 50/50 split on things then you might have to just go with your own intuition which you definitely should not discount. It sounds like when you were getting started for the first time and you alluded to this soft launches. At that time, I feel like soft launches is you kind of just launching and iterating the product. Were there certain things that you learned about these soft launches that you made sure you definitely want to fix or do again or do better when you are going to launch? Like it officially launched the business or when you do any future launches, did you learn anything from those early days that you make sure to I guess do right or do again with the future launch?
Chris: There had been several I guess you call them launch phases and the first one we just went over was the soft blogger outreach launch that was just, “Hey, we just got this minimum viable product wanting to see, testing the waters,” that was launch A. Launch B with the kickstarter which was early 2015 and then launch C was actually a few months after the kickstarter hitting market and saying, “All right, now we’ve got a new site. We’ve got new packaging. We’ve got a brand. We’ve got a new facility. We’ve got some money. We’re ready to push this thing properly.” Each one of those launches just had truly different mentality for each of them. Yeah, we’re launching something new in about a week from now so that’s going to be the approach. That product launch is very different from the other ones as well but actually the main thing was setting a date. We talked about soft launch, it was very like, “Hey, guys. Hey, we’ve got this products. Would you give us some feedback?” There’s no final big unveiling. I think that’s something I wanted to do. If I were going to launch Green Belly again I would say, “We have a hard launch date,” not just the site is up selling now, maybe we’ll get a sale in a few weeks when we send off these samples to somebody. I would love to have pre-lined everything up. Send out all the samples at once to a ton of different influencers and then have a landing page with email opt in and say, “Hey, guys. We’re launching this awesome new backpacking meal on date X, Y, Z. Sign up here to be the first ones to know about it,” and really build up this hype and have a really hard launch date because before it was very soft. Sales kind of trickled in and then we might get some burst every now and then when a bigger blogger would post something but yeah, that would be one thing definitely is build up the hype and then give it a hard date to launch. It would definitely be something.
Felix: Why do you think that that’s … I guess why would you say that that would be a better approach to launch all at once rather than this slow trickle which you know might last … The hype might not last longer but you kind of constantly feeding the marketing engine I guess over a long period of time rather than cost turning at one point without an official date? Why would you lean towards that way?
Chris: Yeah, I guess it would be a little bit of … You’re lining up your dominoes, putting all your resources making sure you cross your t’s and dotted your i’s ahead of time. As you go, it was just kind of, “We’ll tweak this, we’ll tweak that,” but it’s like you put a hard deadline it’s like, you know what, once we have a hard deadline we can … At that point in time like Facebook was doing a lot better on their, I don’t know what they call them but their posting rates, you’re getting a lot more reach with Facebook at the time so it’s like we could have lined up our social media better saying, “Here’s our plan,” pre-launch as well as live as well as the following week as well as our email strategy. We could have really had some synergy with all of the different marketing channels with that hard launch date which other than that they are all operating independently. It was like, “Okay, we’ll post some stuff here. Post some stuff there, send an email here, send an email there.” By having hard launch date it’s like you connect all of those funnels and you just put them right to one hard point.
Felix: Yeah, one thing I’ve heard too about doing a hard launch like this all at once and push everything out all at once is that you start appearing everywhere. Even if it’s a shorter period of time we’ll just start appearing everywhere, you look kind of bigger than you actually are, right? You look like, “Wow, everyone’s covering this.” It add some legitimacy to young and new start up new business and that’s one benefit I think too that sometimes is overlooked like you’re saying. I think when people are starting off for the first time starting their business for the first time, they learn as they go and place pieces here and there. I don’t think there’s a problem with that especially when you just need to get going but like you’re saying, once you have it figured out, once you have a business and you’re doing future launches or new product new product lines I think it definitely make sense to line all up at once. I think the issue then is that it sounds like a lot to manage, right? Because you no longer just focusing on one blogger a week, you’re focusing on 50 bloggers or whatever the number is. You’re focusing on a lot of people, a lot of pieces you’re juggling all at once. How would you manage that today? Any tips on how you carrel all this together and are able to manage a large launch like this?
Chris: I don’t know if I have a one piece of advice. In general it come with a little bit of experience, just knowing where to put your resources and where not to. The next product launch we’re going to do is definitely it’s going to be done in about a fraction of the time as our previous those stages I was mentioning, the stage launches we’ve done in the past. I think this comes with a little bit of experience, you know what has worked in the past and what has not worked and maybe where you might have wasted some resources in the past. I mean, for our next product launch we’d just be very hard with, let’s make sure our email list is looking clean. Let’s make sure we have a good email strategy. We send an email prior to launch, launch date and then a follow up email so that would be one big thing I mean that right there getting that first sequence and emails would be huge. That’s not something we had before. It was a very not only small email list but it wasn’t very, it’s a sloppy as far as organization of it. Yeah, I think the big thing would be a little bit of experience, just knowing where to allocate your resources and knowing where might overall be a waste of time.
Felix: That might not be a bad thing too when you are launching all at once. It forces you to choose your activities wisely because when you have a lot of time, when you give yourself a lot of time you just start dabbling in a lot of distractions more than things that actually moves the needle. Do you remember how much you invested at the beginning to get to this stage of actually having a product that you’re happy with? Maybe even before the kick starter launch and maybe by the time that you spent the funds on hiring someone to help you develop the product and coming with the iteration that you were happy and proud to start selling. Do you remember how much it cost you initially?
Chris: Yeah, I’ve been asked that before and I know I’ve given out different numbers for this answer. To be honest, I don’t know the exact answer. I never gone back and actually seen those early number but I would venture to say food scientist contract and the food scientist, six months with my own salary, getting the site, getting all that early stage packaging, I would venture to say $15,000. I think looking back I could have done that even for less and lighter definitely but yeah, I’d say roughly 15,000.
Felix: What kind of I guess challenges do you find with starting a business that essentially as perishable good, right? Because it’s a food product and I’m assuming this is going to last longer than other food products because of the nature of the product itself but it still eventually will go bad. Is there any I guess challenges that you encountered that you think might be specific to food products?
Chris: Yeah, that’s definitely been, you’re talking about early stages and selecting a product to launch for your own new business, that’s something I definitely had no appreciation for is the shelf life and potentially expiring inventory. There’s this constant push pull that we deal with with managing inventory, right? You want to make sure you can meet the demands of the customers so if people order you’re not out of inventory that’s not good and you’re just losing money then. Also on the flip side you don’t want to overproduce and have a bunch of inventory sitting there that could potentially expire and not be bought. That’s one of our definitely pain points is dealing with inventory and ensuring that we have a comfortable level that’s not over or under-produced. That just takes a lot of time on our end. As well as sourcing the ingredients and all that kind of stuff. We have ingredient inventory that also needs to be managed. I wouldn’t say that [inaudible 00:24:19] this thing about going to food and stir away from it because of that, but that’s definitely something to consider. A lot of entrepreneurial buddies, at first they might have a digital product which is no inventory at all or they might have a physical product and be on Shopify but their inventory is non-perishable and might be anything non-food related but it’s a nice thing to not have to deal with.
Felix: For sure. I think you mentioned that once you did get this site up, the business took off pretty quickly. Were you able to keep up with that demand early on with things going so fast? Especially like you’re saying one of the issues is with the inventory management.
Chris: No. General I was not able to. First six months of sales were very inconsistent but they were also I was living at home with my mom. I was really trying to bootstrap this and I had a little bit of savings, left over from my accounting my corporate accounting job that I was using for this. Yeah, I was making everything by hand with my mom in my mom’s kitchen. When we would get a big PR outlet to push it we would cook night and day in the kitchen trying to meet demands. We didn’t honestly have too, too much. We did what we needed to do when we had to but yeah, I think the big step for Green Belly was getting a proper facility set up which really helped take that off my plate, not have to deal with that and as well as fulfillment, order fulfillment, all that kind of stuff. Yeah, there’s really days that was definitely something that was very, very stressful dealing with that demand as well as you’re on labor and order fulfillment, all that kind of stuff.
Felix: Yeah, I think it’s interesting too to talk about this facility that you had set up because it’s definitely I think different than the typical physical good manufacturers that a lot of listeners, a lot of other guests had spoken about so tell us a little bit more about this. How is it different than I guess a typical physical manufacturing facility?
Chris: Sure. Yeah, without knowing too much about other physical products and how they are manufactured but my understanding is they’ll do big runs less frequently. Maybe they go into production once a year and then they sit on the inventory for a year and then next season rolls around if they have new [inaudible 00:26:55] or new style they’ll go into production again for the next year. Yeah, Green Belly is obviously different. We just discussed the fact that it is perishable. We got a facility in Kentucky. They’ve been superb. That took a lot of cold calling on my part and Google-ing lots. That took a lot of time to try to find a good partner that I felt was working but in general I wanted to find somebody who was already in food production. Again, the learning curve [inaudible 00:27:28] when I have to be responsible for getting, understanding all the USDA regulations of getting this facility set up. I didn’t want to have to train employees to deal with food. It’s just not an area that I was super familiar with and I want to get a facility that was already set up in making their own food and wouldn’t mind some overhead being split between the two of us. Yeah, I spent a lot of time finding them and then I found a good partner that has some extra space for storage. They also had extra time and availability in their facility to go into production and produce food and they also had employees that they could allocate to put on this. From there, we developed a contract and said, “Hey, we’re going to production about every week with them.” They produce Green Belly straight from that facility and ship from their facility.
Felix: Also, you found a different food brand that wasn’t in some kind of large scale facility. They were just producing their own products and then you reach out to them to see if they had some extra I guess bandwidth to take on your products, is that how you approached this?
Chris: Yeah, exactly. My initial approach would be like what you might think of is, there are a million bars out there. Why don’t you go ahead and find another bar manufacturer to, what’s called co-packing and co-packing means co-manufacturing, private label with your product [inaudible 00:29:05] solutions. I talked to some bar companies. They seem like they might be a good fit. There’s always something that would not work out with them. The big one was right off the bat was minimum order quantities which a lot of people run into. We’re wanting to fulfill our kick starter orders which actually I don’t remember how many meals we’re actually doing off that first kick starter but it was maybe 5,000 meals, 10,000 meals off that first run. Yeah, a lot of people even talked to them to do a bar run. They wanted half a million. It was just like, “We just can’t deal with that.” Then the second thing was we have unique packaging so we had a zip pouch and you have two bars within that package so most bar manufacturers that’s not what they do. They have single bar packages. They couldn’t package two bars in one package so right there I was really hitting a lot of walls and like, “How on earth are we going to get this made?” It went back to, “Why don’t we find somebody who’s already producing food and can do this on a smaller scale level?” Which is exactly the route that we went and yeah, it’s been great. It’s good facility, we have good relationship with them. They can also scale with us, do more volume as we need to as we grow. That’s worked out well.
Felix: I really like this approach because most of the time people will look for vendors that are producing for a bunch of different brands but I think this is a very logical approach especially when you’re just starting out trying to find another food manufacturer, another vendor that is looking to partner up with somebody to help them cover some of the extra bandwidth. One of the thing I really like about your product is the packaging. It looks very professional, it looks very clean and the design is awesome and everything. How did you get this made? How did you get it designed? How’s the packaging actually created?
Chris: The great age of the internet is we initially started off with I think the first raw packaging I ever did was from I think just Google-ing graphic design food packaging, a few different listings popped up on Google. The company that did was just not very good, to be honest with you they provided a few different mock ups and then for some direction for me but in general the mock ups were all very similar so they didn’t give me any big concept differentiators to say, “Oh that was cool. Let’s go that direction.” They really gave me a very narrow selection for concepts to go for. This is all looking back that I realized that but at the time I thought, “Oh yeah, it looks okay. Let’s just run with that.” What I did for this second round of packaging which is what you’re currently talking about, Felix, is 99 Designs. Are you familiar with them?
Felix: Yeah, I love them.
Chris: Yeah, they are awesome. The thing with 99 Designs is you have to make it enticing for the graphic designers and I don’t know, for the listeners out there, just quickly, 99 Designs is like you post a project and on this website you say, “Hey, I’m looking for a t-shirt design, packaging, logo design,” whatever. Then you have all the graphic designers on 99 Designs. My understanding is almost anybody can be a graphic designer on 99 Designs. You have that sharing option of the crowd design and anybody can see your project and then decide whether or not they want to help design it based on your demands as well as your price point. The designer that actually makes the final design for you gets the prize money. We posted a project, I don’t remember how much it was for. We put a decent price tag on it. It was a few thousand dollars for some quality packaging and we also guaranteed that we would give the money. Also there’s an option that you don’t have to guarantee the money so if you post a project on 99 Designs you don’t get any good designs you can just say, “All right, no thanks. I’m out.” No money is awarded or you can lock it in saying, “No matter what, we’re going to pay somebody this money.” Once you do that on 99 Designs, the quality and the number of designers that pitch in for your packaging it increases a huge amount. Yeah, we locked in a decent amount of money and got a lot of designers throwing out some great designs. Then also what was kind of fun at the time is we built in our newsletter following so we said, “Hey, here are the top six packaging concepts right now. We kind of created a little survey.” 99 Designs actually creates this survey for you and then yeah kind of say, “What are you all thinking?” Then this packaging right now that we have overwhelmingly won so that was enough for us to go ahead with it. Yeah, 99 Designs was great.
Felix: You actually had your email list, your customers, your potential customers vote on the design they like the most?
Chris: Exactly. This packaging was being designed, we raised almost $20,000 from that kick starter so that money was going towards creating the Green Belly Meals so we had a few months between raising the money and actually delivering the product. Those few months was, a part of that was winding up the packaging so I said, “Hey, guys, you gave us your money for the kick starter. Here we’re going to design the packaging for you. What do you all want?” That was also kind of just some feedback for what direction should we take the packaging for when we’re actually live and selling on the site.
Felix: Awesome. You mentioned earlier on that the soft launches and even your approach today is to work with these influencers. You sent free products to them. Tell us a little bit about this, this approach, how did you reach out to these influencers? How did you present to them this essentially free product for them to try out? Because I’m sure that especially the more popular ones they get inundated with these kind of, “Hey, try my product. Try my product out.” How do you stand out, I guess in that kind of environment?
Chris: Yeah, a couple of things. One is I hear other entrepreneurs talking about when they do PR outreach they create a template and then hand it over to their VA to mass blast different influencers and they don’t seem to have much success. The approach I’ve done has been very, pretty personal. I don’t know if you mind me even mentioning, Felix, when I was talking to you about coming on the podcast I was really … I try to be specific to you and I also try to make sure the email wasn’t too long when I was talking to you. I want to just say, “Hey, Felix.” I truly am trying to talk to you and I also want to make sure that you don’t have too much to read for this so don’t make it an overwhelmingly long email.
Felix: Just to jump on that. That was one of the best kind of outreach emails I’ve seen because one thing that you did I really like and I think will work really well for anybody reaching out to PR is that you gave me a bunch of ideas for essentially titles for the podcast and give me an idea for the structure that might come out of the podcast and that really helps a lot because I was reading through and I was like, “Wow, these are pretty enticing titles I can imagine what this podcast would be like.” It makes my job a lot easier which makes it a lot easier for me to say, “Yes, come on the podcast.” I think that’s the same case for anybody that you reach out to whether it be bloggers or influencers.
Chris: Yeah, that’s [inaudible 00:37:11] we have on the call right now who I was actually pitching, that’s a perfect example. It’s just that, keeping in mind what the PR outlet wants so understanding them a little bit more than just, “Hey, how can this PR outlet get my product listed?” It was more like, “What is this outlet writing about?” If they are an ultra light backpacking blog I might say, “Hey, we’re an ultra light meal. I’ve got an Appalachian Trail background.” Kind of make it a little more catered to them so taking a step back, I personally pitch everybody. I make sure my signature says founder. I think that says a lot more than a team member, right? It shows that the founder is actually reaching out, it’s from my personal email. I address everybody very specifically so I mean I’ll definitely use the custom name. I won’t just say, “Hey there.” I’ll definitely try to say something a little bit unique about them like I enjoy X, Y, Z about whatever they are writing about and then I really try to make sure my pitch is very specific to what they are writing about. It’s almost like if you apply for a job you want your resume to nail the qualifications and requirements for that job posting as opposed to just say, “Hey, I’m good at everything.” That’s not really very applicable to that job so similar thing when you reach out to PR at least I’ve noticed this when you reach out to somebody, make it very specific to them. Make sure your pitch is not too long. I mean, I think ideally four sentences. Talk about them, what can you do for them, what do you have for them. Whether you’re wanting to do a guest post or why do you want to give your product to them, say why is your product really beneficial for them and their audience.
Felix: Awesome. When you do reach out to these PR outlets you’re doing it one by one which obviously will take a lot of time not just to produce the emails but to do your research into these emails. Are there any ways to stack the odds in your favor to make sure that they … Maybe not so much with the PR and bloggers but the influencers, the people that are posting on Instagram or posting on social media to get them to share the product even though you’re going to send them for free. Any ways to increase the odds of them actually trying to product and then sharing with their followers?
Chris: Sure, that’s something I would like to get better at. It’s not something I’ve been the best at. Yeah, I think that’s a little bit of a side step but that’s something … Affiliate programs would be to say, “Hey, if you share with our custom link and refer any sales we’ll give you 10 or 15% of all sales referred.” I think that’s one approach that we could do. That’s not something we’ve done. We’ve done a little bit of it and has not been successful. It’s something I would like to polish more is really trying to line up an army or Green Belly disciples, if you will, yeah really incentivize them to push it somewhat systematically. If that’s on their social media or whatever their main outreach method is, if that’s social media or email or in person, at events or at a race or whatever that might be. That’s something we honestly have not been too good at is really once we reach out to them say, “Hey, will you post this or will you not post this? I wonder will you post this.” It’s been a very hands off process which hey, maybe that has worked to our benefits. It’s no pressure kind of if you want to try this, great. If you want to write about it, great, if not, no worries. Maybe that actually has been a good approach but in general that’s something I want to work at is getting a more consistent system for some of those influencers to being on the Green Belly team, if you will.
Felix: Make sense. One thing you mentioned to me I think in the emails, one was about the struggles of being a solopreneur. I spoke into this, spoken to a few entrepreneurs about this about basically the lonely journey, right? Because most of your friends at least initially aren’t going to be entrepreneurs, are not going to be not necessarily understand what you’re trying to do. They are following specific track basically working a day job, staying on that and then you’re doing something completely different. The challenges, a lot of the ways that people think about earning an income, earning a living, tell us about this. Did you feel this early on? Did you feel like, “Man, this is a lonely journey”? Did you feel like it was not that bad? What was your experience early on being a solopreneur?
Chris: Yeah, I mentioned when I first started this I was living with my parents, man. Looking back it was not fun times, man. I was truly lonely and there’s not really from the emotional side of things it’s lonely but also from the business side of things I need feedback. If I’m thinking about doing something I want to know, “Hey, is this a bad idea? Hey, is this where I need to be allocating my resources at this point? Hey, this worked in the past. Should we be doing more of this? This didn’t work in the past, should we try to fine tune that?” All that kind of stuff is difficult I think going solo. I think ways to combat that has been one just kind of pig-headed discipline, sticking to it and staying the course and gaining more experience while staying the course. That’s definitely helped. The other thing, as time has gone on which we mentioned earlier on the call, Felix, the Dynamite Circle, that’s one entrepreneurial community specifically that I’ve tapped into. I had a good buddy from college who’s already in there and he was saying, “Hey, this community has really been helpful,” so I joined that and I went to their conference last year and yeah, that plugged me into a lot of people also doing the traveling working lifestyle. That community specific has been helpful. Then also, I guess traveling and being in little hub cities internationally so Medellin, Columbia was one. I’m in Chiang Mai, Thailand now. Austin, Texas was another one. I was there for a little while. Being in those communities and tapping into that online community has helped me meet in person a lot more entrepreneurs which has really helped fuel the ideas and feedback on the business. I think a lot of those people are solopreneur so we just talk. It’s socializing. You might have a beer and talk football. We have a beer and talk business. It sounds weird but a lot of entrepreneurs they love business so it really helped tapping into some of those communities and almost developing somewhat of a social circle of entrepreneurs. We just talk about what are you doing with your business and it’s not necessarily real formal thing like, “Hey, let’s get down and talk about this,” really casual but that has definitely helped just having some entrepreneurial friends. The other thing is a little more structured is the actual mastermind. I just joined a mastermind. I kind of dabbled with some in the past that have been not successful. This one specific I’m in has been pretty successful so we have a weekly call and we put somebody on the hot seat every week which is an hour long call. The first 15 minutes is generally what you’ve been working on the past week and then the last 45 or 30, 45 minutes this one person specifically saying, “Hey, guys. I’m working on this problem. Let’s get some feedback on it.” Then the other three on the call really dig into it deep and try to help solve that problem. I think those kind of things help being the solo guy and not having a co-founder or a real team at the top pushing the business hard.
Felix: Do you find that a community or a mastermind, is this something that make sense at every stage? If they have no idea what kind of business you want to start yet, obviously you don’t have a business yet, don’t have a store up yet, is it too early to join a community or mastermind like this? Do you think that there’s a place for no matter what stage you’re in?
Chris: This community specifically that I was talking about you have to have revenue. They do have I don’t know what other guidelines but they do have some filtration process so if you’re totally idea phase, that one will not be the best for you but yeah, I think that’s a good point is finding a community or at least a group of people that are in a similar stage as you, it’s really helpful. Yeah, I would say any stage, try to find somebody because right now I would prefer not to be in a mastermind with somebody who’s in the product development phase as well as somebody who’s making seven figures a month is not going to want to be in a call with me. Yeah, that’s it, trying to find somebody who’s in a relevant stage of business but by all means I would think it’s extremely beneficial to have always at least some support group that’s not just your buddies from corporate America. Really try to have somebody who’s on a limb trying to push the limits doing their own thing.
Felix: I think another kind of concern that some people might have about joining this masterminds is about how transparent you’re expected to be with your business. The masterminds I’ve been part of, we’ll talk about numbers, about revenue, about expenses, we’ll talk about all that kind of stuff. What are your thoughts on that? Have you ever had legitimate fears about sharing much about your business? What kind of I guess advice you have for people that might be fearful of being too transparent with their business?
Chris: Yeah, something similar with you, your call it sounds like you all are pretty transparent. I know this one specifically where it hasn’t been going on that long maybe a couple of months but we’re pretty transparent. I think the more transparent you are the more benefit everybody can provide advice and vice versa, you can provide them. It’s hard to dig into a problem if you’re not really knowing how severe it is or vice versa. If somebody’s doing great, you want to know some numbers so I think I would always vote for being as transparent as possible. I think maybe a little bit is trust, making sure that people in your group aren’t somebody that’s going to be out there to get you but I think the chance are pretty slim. Mine specifically we’re very transparent.
Felix: We’ll talk a little bit about you kind of alluded to this earlier about traveling and starting and running a business. We said earlier that you started this out of Georgia. You have your facility in Kentucky. I think earlier you said you’re in Asia right now. Tell us about this. What are some of the pros and I guess cons with starting a remote business like this?
Chris: Sure, the first thing I wanted to start a remote business because I wanted to travel. That was one of the big incentives of having Green Belly is I wanted to travel and I needed a cash [count 00:49:01] to pay for that. Yeah, it’s been a blast kind of working and traveling. I would say when I first started I was really excited about going to different places. Traveling a lot. I quickly found that that was a productivity crusher. I first started off, I went down to Columbia and then Ecuador and Peru. I was moving around a lot staying a month or two at a time which was really draining. I quickly realized that that was just not best for productivity. It was constantly, you got to get in your groove when you got somewhere new you might not have any friends. Sounds like, okay you got to try to find, reach out for some friends and that takes time and you got to find your gym, you got to find your coffee stop to work at. You got to find your place that you want to live, make sure you have a good apartment that’s near central town. Then you got to find your logistics to get to the next place. It was just very time draining. I’ve actually been in Chiang Mai, Thailand for almost a year now. I think I found a year is pretty comfortable so I think the next place I’ll go probably would be for a year as well but yeah the big trade off is definitely the time drain. It’s constantly trying to get reestablished in a new environment. It takes time. The big advantage is if you like to travel yeah it’s a blast. Columbia was great. There’s a huge entrepreneurial community in Medellin. It was fun tapping into that. There’s a huge entrepreneurial community in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s extremely affordable so I mean my partner right now is very nice. It’s extremely affordable. Yeah and life here in general is very affordable. Fast internet. There are a lot of cities across the globe that have great set ups to work on your business. The big other trade off that was if you’re doing stuff overseas, if any kind of clients we do a lot of business partnerships and that is very taxing to get on the phone late at night a lot of times with them that’s a big drawback is being off with the time when you’re over in Asia.
Felix: Yeah, definitely. For business like this that is remote and you have your team spread out everywhere, are there specific tools or apps that you heavily rely on to keep the business running all hours?
Chris: I don’t know if there’s anything specific. We do Skype. I got a VA in the Philippines. Our facility, production and fulfillment is heavily email. Other than that, email is big. I know Slack is something a lot of people dabble with. I’ve not dabbled too much with Slack. I found them just like, “Why am I on this messaging service?” I don’t know if it’s because I don’t have as big of a team that’s constantly working together. Maybe it is the fact that we’re in a different time zones that we’re not all online at the same time but yeah, in general, email has been fine for us.
Felix: What about apps like Shopify apps or any other tools just in general that you use?
Chris: Yeah, a big one has been recurring revenue so we have a subscription option for Green Belly. You can get Green Belly every 14 up to 60 day schedule I believe. That is I think [inaudible 00:52:25] recharge. I think there are two companies out there doing the subscription application but recharge recurring revenue I think is what it would be called but that’s been great. We have a substantial chunk of revenue subscription base which is really nice. It does require a decent amount more of customer service. Goshippo who we used for our shipping labels. We use Shopify’s app product reviews for product reviews. We have an automated email that sends out to all customers about a week after they purchase, talking, saying, introducing myself to them as the founder, if you want to say, “Submit a product review. We welcome it.” Shopify’s app product review has been good for that. It’s a free one. Abandonment Protector, that’s another one. Abandonment Protector which does shopping cart recovery. Somebody comes to our check out and gets distracted or decides they don’t want to buy, whatever, there’s an automated email that sends out to them with a discount code saying, “Looks like you’ve abandoned your cart. If you want to come back,” those are definitely probably the biggest ones. Then our email marketing services. We’re actually in the process of switching from Mailchimp to Constant Contact. I can’t attest too much to Constant Contact if it’s going to be good or not. AppSumo, AppSumo is one we use, we have a pop up that integrates with our email marketing service so we create a lot of content and backpacking guides, that sort of thing. AppSumo has been a pop up that we use to catch the email so it will say, “If you sign up today we’ll give you all of our best backpacking guides,” and then we’ll send an automated email to them with AppSumo. Those are definitely, if there are some other apps I’m sure we have other apps, if we do, we don’t use them as much. Those are the main ones that we use.
Felix: Cool. What’s next? What’s next for Green Belly? What do you guys have planned for the next year?
Chris: Man, currently launching something at the moment. We’re basically going to do, we’re calling it a bundle box and it’s going to be not quite a subscription box. It’s going to be essentially like a pre-sale subscription box where we partner with other businesses. Put some cool backpacking products into a box and discount it for 25% off retail value. That’s something we’re currently working on. I’m excited about that. It’s somewhat of a side step for Green Belly. It’s like we’re going to be almost reselling other company’s products but I think the potential there is very big. Then as far as the Green Belly point of view we can put Green Belly in the hands of lots of different customers which I’m excited about that. We have launched it so I don’t know if it’s going to … It could totally flop for all I know in which case we wouldn’t put too many resources into it. Then the other stuff is yeah I’m thinking about doing another product so currently we’re doing meals and food. Definitely, I’ve been thinking about a drink. I think polishing a lot of our existing marketing channels would be something I would like to do. Not only launching new products like the drink and the box but then also trying to get more consistent revenue and more passive revenue, if you will. Getting some better email funnels. Getting some Facebook funnels, that kind of thing. I definitely have retail in my mind in the horizon. We’ve done big time eCommerce with Shopify as our business models online. It’s because the margins are so great. The retail market for food and backpacking products in particular I think is huge. I can’t turn away from that even if the margins are less. Retail is definitely something on the horizon. I don’t know. I got a lot of stuff i want to be working on, man.
Felix: Yeah, sounds like a busy year. Cool. Thanks so much, Chris. Again, greenbelly.co. G-R-E-E-N-B-E-L-L-Y.co is the website. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners check out if they want to follow along with what you’re up to?
Chris: I guess social media, obviously social media, we’re on Facebook of course. Yeah, if you also subscribe to our email list we’ve got a pop up, we’re using cool backpacking guides. We’ve got some really cool backpacking guides but yeah other than that keep on our website. Feel free to reach out to me, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org C-H-R-I-S@greenbellybar.com.
Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much, Chris.
Chris: All right, Felix. I appreciate it man.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial.
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