Around 25 million Americans admit to using marijuana. Many would just see a statistic. An entrepreneur sees a growing market.
Ben Kovacs runs two Shopify businesses in the marijuana industry—two businesses that complement each other in a clever way to bring in over $1 million a year.
Myster sells high-end marijuana accessories for the cannabis connoisseur, and Lifted View sells supplements that help combat some of the side effects of cannabis consumption to reduce anxiety and increase focus.
In this episode, you'll learn:
- Why you’ll get better customers by offering 100% satisfaction guaranteed refunds rather than giving away free samples.
- Why not having to rely on immediate revenue can help you focus on building a product-first business.
- What it’s like working a demanding sales job and running 2 Shopify businesses at the same.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
Felix: Today I’m joined by Ben Kovacs co-founder from liftedview.com. That’s L-I-F-E-T-E-D-V-I-E-W .com. Lifted View sells natural supplements with six ingredients promoting focus and mood balance that was started 2015. Welcome, Ben.
Ben: Hey, thanks for having me Felix.
Felix: Cool. Liftedview.com is your latest project. Again, it started at the beginning of the year in 2015 but you have experienced outside or before Lifted View came. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Ben: Yeah, I guess I have a little bit of unconventional path you would say. I worked at Twitter full-time, still I do. I do sales at Twitter. I’ve worked there for about three years and actually still work here. I also was involved early on from the start of a company called Myster which is M-Y-S-T-E-R. It’s a cannabis accessories company. It makes high end cannabis accessories. Myster actually has a Shopify store as well. I got really burst in what was going on there with the e-commerce side of the business through Myster before starting Liftedview. The other thing I do is really my passion project which is a nonprofit martial arts gym which provides free jiu-jitsu and boxing for kids out here in Oakland which has been in the planning process for a few years but just launched in January of this year.
Felix: Got you. You were and you still are working at Twitter. At what point during this experience at Twitter did you realize that you wanted to start something of your own? I guess start with Myster.
Ben: Yeah, Myster was interesting because it was actually founded by one of my best friends name Davis Kiyonaga. He came to me with an idea of creating really beautiful stashtrays, we call it, which is a stainless steel magnetic rolling tray for all of someone’s rolling needs. Kind of taking that business to the next level. We are thinking of why and where. You don’t throw a wine connoisseur. THere’s a big difference between box wine and having a half million dollar wine cellar in your basement to show off to your friends. We think that’s really the way that cannabis industry is moving and we wanted to start building really great products that made people feel proud and not feel like all the stereotypes that you get being a stoner and lazy and a loser and all those type of things. He approached me. I was the first investor in the company. We had a very passive role. We didn’t do a lot. Just kind of had meetings once in a while to him to see how things were going and then I started taking on a more active role on the company over time.
That was how I got my foot in the door. My start with Myster whereas with Lifted View, it was a lot different. I really wasn’t planning on starting Lifted View but what happened is I was sitting around one night and some of my friends including I Davis, my partner and Lifted View. A friend of mine named Tony and then … Oh, actually, it was just us three at the time sitting around. We were wondering. We were having conversation I said. I said, isn’t it weird that like people have supplements for everything out there in life but there’s so many people that suffer from negative side effects from using cannabis and there’s not really a supplement out there that helps them overcome those negative side effects? One of my partners Tony said, “You know, I actually have been experimenting with this for a while now about two years and I’ve tried 50 different types of new tropics. I really like to help you try to solve this problem.”
It almost was like this little challenge and we didn’t say, we didn’t start out and start the business the next and say “Hey, we are going to make this work.” We actually did all this research for about a year and started experimenting with different types of new tropics and doing research in different natural ingredients until we finally figured out something that actually worked. The real secret was raising energy levels in a slow and sustained way but at the same time reducing the feelings of anxiety that so many people get and that really kind of secret combination all through a natural and simple formula ingredients that are 2000+ years old each was born. It wasn’t until we started giving this to our friends and family and doing it ourselves and getting feedback from random people and coworkers that we realize like, “Wow. This is actually working for the vast majority of people.” That’s how Lifted View was born.
Felix: Yeah. Obviously you’re in the cannabis industry and it’s very fast-moving industry with all the legalization happening. I think just today, by the time we are recording this, Vermont just passed some legalization for it. How does this affect your business? How do you think about your business differently because it’s in a such a fast-moving industry where there’s a lot of changes in the laws?
Ben: The truth is I don’t think about it a lot. I mean, I think the statistics I’ve seen are like 25 to 30 million Americans all ready admit to using cannabis and that’s just in America. There’s obviously a worldwide market as well. I think it’s only going to increase obviously over time as people continue to or states continue to adapt legalization measures in different forms. I think that really bodes well for business. Kind of the rising tide lifts all boats type scenario but it’s not something I think about. It’s not really in our control. There’s clearly already a market for cannabis accessories and things like what we are doing with Lifted View. I honestly don’t put a lot of thought into.
Felix: Got you. You said that with Myster, you were an investor first. Can you tell us a little bit about how you make your decisions on whether you wanted to invest in this business before? Or maybe before we get there, have you invested in other businesses in the past?
Ben: Yeah. I’m not a season investors. I am an investor in a lot of companies. It was more, my friend I thought had a really cool idea and figured the money that I put into the company wasn’t certainly going to make or break me but I thought it would be a fun business to also get in. What I notice in the cannabis industry is there’s sort of of a fun element to it. People who have stocks and they invest in oil companies and they have tech holdings. When they go to a dinner party or something. It’s not very exciting or fun to talk about. You don’t get your person sitting across from the table. You are excited because you’re getting a 4% dividend and Exon. There’s something cool about the cannabis industry just like so many wealthy folks decide to get reason for wanting to get into it, was that I knew it was an industry that’s going to grow. I thought this was like an easy way to get my foot in the door without doing a lot of work myself. I think it was just more or one of those gut feeling decisions. It wasn’t like all this is going to be a short fire or home run type thing.
Felix: You started off as an investor of Myster and then you said you got a little bit more involved. What are the first steps you are taking on that was getting you more involved in the business?
Ben: Well, I think what happened is really my partner at the time. He just needed a … My partner, Davis. He owns the company. The guy that I invested with. He asked for money because he is developing prototypes of the product. As a guy with a sales and marketing background and with no product design [inaudible 00:07:59], I really wasn’t valuable at the company at the beginning. I was like, give him some money, get out of the way but then as we actually started selling product and developed the product and there was a product ready for sale then all of a sudden, there’s all these other tasks. Because running a business will be done.
Then I started stepping in and helping him. Still, I’d say, the thing the I helped him most with is sort of strategy in helping him balance ideas off of … We balance ideas off of each other, back and forth and talk sense into each other because when you’re on a entrepreneur island, I call it, sometimes you make really crazy decisions or you don’t prioritize things because there’s too many things going on. It’s nice to have that person. The right to ship their, sort of as your second-in-command or partner whatever you want to call it.
Felix: Once you have invested in Myster, you still have the sales executive job at Twitter. Where you concerned about any kind of potential conflicts because you are having a relatively public facing role at a company like Twitter. Obviously there’s still some negative viewpoints about a business in the cannabis industry. Did you have any concerns there?
Ben: That’s a great question. I mean it’s something everybody asks. I was very upfront when I was interviewed at Twitter, that I was already working with Myster. An investor Myster. I think that they actually thought it was cool. Not everyday you get an interview candidate who comes, who has that type of unique experience and I think they appreciated my honesty. Let’s face it, now we work in Downtown, San Francisco on the most liberal areas probably in the in the world and it’s not like I’m the first person probably that ever walked to these doors that had some sort of interest in that business or that industry or supporting it in some way. It definitely didn’t have any negative backlash.
In fact, I would think almost the opposite when I meet with some clients or colleagues or whatever it just gives me just that extra thing to talk about this interesting and unique. When you take clients out for a dinner. They don’t want to talk about their ads for a 100% of the time. They want to hear about your personal life and why you are interested in them? Why are you fun? Why are you cool? Why they should want to do another dinner with you? Eventually that’s like that’s how this business works, right? There’s not an exact science for the advertising business and a lot of is people are doing business with who they like and who they find interesting and I really think that Myster and Lifted View and Guardian Gym and all the other things I’m doing has helped make me be more of an interesting person which just helped in my Twitter job as well.
Felix: For anyone out there though that either maybe I was working a job currently and wants to start their own business even is not in a field that is controversial do you feel like there’s any tips that you can give about how they can approach their employer to make sure that there is no conflict of interest or any potential problems with them running their own business? Even though it’s on nights or some weekends outside of work?
Ben: Yeah, I mean, I am not sure I have real great advice as far as how to approach your employer in the sense that I did it beforehand so I was very open and honest. I guess, the one thing I would say is people typically respect people who are brutally honest and I think when someone senses that you’re hiding something from them and they catch you at a later date doing something that maybe they didn’t know you were doing, then it looks a lot worse so. I just think being really honest and open and upfront is the way to do it. When it comes to talking to your employer about it and I don’t really see for most people out of reason.
If you are working on a nights and weekends and you’re building a website or you are creating content, get a business launch or doing research with suppliers in China or wherever you get your products from. I’m not really sure there’s a need to tell your employer, right? As long as you are doing an ethical way. You are not using company time and company property and all that stuff to run your business, I just don’t know what the benefit for most people would be to tell their employer but if it’s a type of business that is like public facing then I would just say be brutally honest and just make sure it doesn’t conflict with your other business.
Felix: Make sense. Once, during the beginning stage of Myster. You guys are really focused on just getting a prototype going, maybe validate a market before you are able to … You personally were to step in and bring in your sales and marketing background. For someone out there that also is on that kind of position where they finally have the product or finally the manufacturer is ready to produce the products and they are starting to get to the point where they need to start promoting and marketing it. What were your first couple of months? Maybe first one, two or three months like goals to hit during that beginning period?
Ben: Interesting thing is I don’t think we really had any goals. We don’t really have any specific goals. We didn’t have other investors besides ourselves that we had to hit those goals for. I think a lot of it was really just winging it at the beginning and just throwing stuff at the wall and see what sticks. The hard part about building a business is obviously like creating that following and that demanded and advertising is extremely expensive. In my opinion, it’s just really hard for a lot of businesses to make work especially at the beginning. You’ve got to be really be creative about how you are getting your name out there and what you’re doing. For people who go to our website at Myster, they follow us on our social media channels. It’s Myster High End. It’s like our Instagram and Twitter and that kind of stuff. Getmyster.com is our website, but the people that follow us, I think what they see is there’s a lot of authenticity there. There’s just Davis who is my partner is not just like a guy who sees the money on the wall, the writing on the wall that there’s money coming on the pipe in this industry. He’s a guy who’s extremely passionate about the legalization of cannabis.
He was once charged 10 years ago with some, I don’t know. They wanted to throw him in jail for 10 years for like conspiracy the smuggled marijuana. It was a crazy story that he ended up getting off in court and not ever going to jail for but he realized the destruction that could happen from people’s lives and all the benefits that happened to him. He was just really passionate about it. I think that authenticity comes out in what we do with Myster. We’ve got other companies in the space approach us and they are just like how much can we pay you to sell your company and start working for us? Like, we want you to work for us. You guys know how to do branding in this business better than anyone else. I think it’s just honestly, a lot of the credit goes to him. He jus has a real gift for photography and videography and knowing what’s cool. It’s really hard to replicate that if you don’t have that passion and that authenticity for what you’re doing.
Felix: This is one of those industries where it’s not necessarily easier to market but because it’s so controversial, it just come out with your stands and be proud of your particular stands that have a side in the race or in the battle, whatever you want call it. It really helps to gravitate towards you because you see them, “Oh there’s someone out there that’s standing up for this and no one else is willing to speak up.” It just makes a lot easier for you to stay on marketplace where people are so afraid to talk about these kind things.
Ben: Yeah. That’s very true. It’s also an industry that has been littered with garbage, right? It’s been littered with brands that are just text heavy and really either appealing to a very, I will call it like a hillbilly crowd or a demographic that’s not a high end you could say. It’s not something that you’re proud to wear out on your shirt something that you would want to expose on a coffee table when you have a fancy dinner guest or something over so.
Ben: We kind of saw that there was this huge opportunity to take that to the next level. It doesn’t have to be like that forever.
Felix: Got you. We’ve got a little glimpse at a Myster and obviously, also your work at Twitter. While this all going on, when did you decide I wanted to focus more on launching Lifted Views. I know you are saying how you cam with this idea about why aren’t there supplements for people that do use cannabis and then you … Well, what happened next once you came with that idea? How did you start executing on that idea?
Ben: I think one of the really cool things that happened because of us all the people being involved, like not needing Lifted View to be successful financially. We were able to really concentrate on building an awesome product first that we were a hundred percent confident and comfortable worked not only for ourselves but for other people. We really just want and willing because this is something, this is a supplement. This is something that you’re putting in your body like we didn’t want to put out how fast a product, right? Or even [record 00:16:41] our product. We wanted to put out something that we really thought worked and we did a lot of research around. We spent the first year or so just doing research on the product, right? Just going through 50 or 100, 200 options and doing research with what products were already out there that had a synergy with cannabis or what’s a natural substances who to synergy with cannabis and had researched already attached, we couldn’t obviously afford.
We didn’t want to go through all those studies on each ingredient. We couldn’t afford a hundred thousand dollars study on 50 different ingredients to get this started. We had to think logically about how we could piece this together and build this supplement in a way that made sense. Until we actually did that and started testing it and buying each ingredient individually and testing and then making our own capsules at home and giving them to friends and family and other people to get honest feedback from. Collecting that data for Google forms and making sure we really had a good idea what was working what wasn’t and continue to refine that formula. It wasn’t until we finally had that product that we were like, “Wow, this is actually working.” That we decided to turn it into a business.
Felix: Makes sense. Can you talk a little bit more about that process of creating these ingredients and creating I guess the right formula that you finally set and all. Did you work with a particular type of manufacturer? Or like what are the players are involved in something like?
Ben: Yeah, I mean, we did it all on our own at beginning by again doing the research. Buying all these different supplements in bulk. Then once we had the formula down then that’s when we went to a manufacturer. We wanted to find a really high quality manufacturer so we found a group out here in California. My friend works for a much larger well-known company and he was doing their logistics and their supply chains so he had relationship with this really high quality factory that would not have worked with us based on our minimums if it wasn’t for his relationship. They kind of did it as a friend deal to get us in the door and keep him happy I think but we were really lucky because we’ve talked to a lot of different manufacturers in that industry. The supplement industry is extremely shady, right? There are just people all over the country that you can go to that will pack your stuff but you’re relying on them to source the ingredients from the places that they say they are. The quality control experiment. It’s really, all these people we talked to, we never really had confidence that people are going to do it and I feel like it was just a great stroke of luck actually at the end that we found this amazing factory right here in California that would do this for us.
Felix: Like you are saying, it’s a potentially shady industry and obviously, there’s a lot of manufacturers in the space but sometimes a lot of what they are doing is almost a black box. You give money and then you get products in return, you don’t know exactly what happens. What did you feel like you needed to do to make sure that you had everything ready on your end or you made sure to bring to the table or may even talked to the manufacturer about to make sure that the partnership was going to be successful with that manufacturer?
Ben: We did a tour at their facility. We sat down and we met with them and really walkthrough all of the certifications and how it worked and how they would source the products. I think once we went there and we realized what kind of operation this was and how seriously they took this and what other types of clients they were doing business with, then the seeing these products that are number one bestsellers on Amazon and huge household names and knowing that this isn’t a accompany that is cutting corners to make an extra $500 a shipment on us, right? Like that’s just not what fuels their business. They are really just taking us on in a case like … I think they are like playing a lottery in a way with people like us. They are like, “Yeah, you’ll probably going to try. It’s probably not going to work. 95% of these companies probably fail and go out of business but if you hit it big all the a sudden you know you are doing $5 million in your orders then you’re worth it to us, right?” I think they’re playing a little bit like, "Hey, let’s keep Ben’s friend happy and lets play the lottery with these guys because they have an interesting concept.
Felix: I see it is almost like you found somebody that wasn’t desperate for your business and they were more like let’s take a chance on these guys and that kind of relationship almost changes the dynamics a little bit because you now feel like you’re working with a manufacturer that actually knows what they’re doing. You went to see their facilities and also took a look at the positive credit in the past to make sure they have the kind of a resume that made sense for you guys.
Ben: Yeah, I am also going to say, we are also working directly with the son of the owner of the factory so because of that relationship like we weren’t just passed on to a sales guy. We are working with someone who could really the make the decisions there. We felt really comfortable versus the people we are talking to at other factories were clearly like, the sales guy or girl that just every time we would email or every time we talk to them and ask a question they would just be like, “Are you ready to sign the purchase order yet?” It just felt like we haven’t even got all our docs in a row, how can we sign a purchase order and move for the supplement, we don’t even know what our final formula is yet. You just knew there was something inherently wrong with those other places.
Felix: It seem like they are just trying to get the money and not really help be more consultative during your process.
Felix: I guess you went to a couple of iterations and you had some beta testers with friends and family. How did you get them involved? What was the process like to make sure that you’re getting kind of feedback that you wanted or that you needed?
Ben: Essentially, what we did was not that complicated. We created Google forms and we explained obviously what we were doing and why were asking to test this. We made them feel really comfortable of what the ingredients were that were in there that they were testing and I think the fact that we have no crazy neotropics. We don’t have any names, like if you look at our label, everything on there is something that is natural. It’s been around for thousands of years. Like a lot of these supplements that I look at, there’s is just crazy names on it. I don’t know what those things are. They don’t have thousands of years of history behind them. I am very reluctant to put things in my body that I don’t know what it is. We’ve always wanted what happens with Lifted View, is if it doesn’t work for you the worst thing that would happen is it doesn’t work, right?
Like you’re not going to get crazy side effects. You are not going to feel terrible. You are not going to be going to the hospital because it didn’t work for you. I guess most people that it doesn’t work for come back to us and say, “Hey, I think I need something stronger. This wasn’t like strong enough and I need to continue taking my Adderall or whatever my much stronger prescription is, than your natural supplement.” That’s great, right? No supplements are going to work for a 100% of people but I’d much rather be too benign and where people have to go from two capsules to three capsules than going up or versus the person who starts off a standard dose and it was like rocked their world and put them in a coma for four days, right?
Ben: We can’t have that. That was the kind of explanation I was giving to people of like first making them feel comfortable and saying, if you are willing to do this, could you fill out this little Google form so we would know how many capsules did they, how did it make them feel at what time of the day. We would collect certain feedback and we realize that people should have … The only kind of negative feedback we got was a couple people who said, “Oh, I shouldn’t have taken it on an empty stomach. It works much better for me if I have a little bit of food after breakfast or after lunch when I take it.” Something like that. We say, “Hey, take it with a little bit of food in your stomach.” Those kind of things.
We collected all that feedback and then continued again to refine the formula. Work with the factory at this point to make a finished product. They may created actual pilot samples for us which were like the real run samples, not us making them in our basement type of thing. Then, of course give those out again re-collected the feedback, made sure that there was any change in the formula from when we were doing it to when the factory did it and then once we felt really comfortable that this was actually working. The feedback was still positive from the vast majority of people. Then we decided to launch it online.
Felix: Yeah, I really like this approach that you take where I think earlier saying that because of all of the people that were involved didn’t necessarily need revenue right away. You guys took it as slow as you needed to, to make sure they hit all the right things along the way. Let’s talk about this. You obviously have … You said in your email that you are one of the top performing sales executives at Twitter for multiple years. I am assuming that your partners also have successful backgrounds as well. Why not go into something … I guess why not put yourself in a situation where you can work on this full-time and be focus on the revenue because I guess that’s like the other side of coin, right? Where people say, “Oh, you have to have no back up place. You either just dive outside the plane and then figure it out along the way.” You guys have taken a different approach which obviously, it was working out for you. Can you tell us about your thoughts about those two approaches to starting a business? One going full-in, no safety nets and the other much more kind of slow process that you guys have taken?
Ben: Yeah. I think there’s obviously like a big question. There’s a lot of moving parts to that but I think for me is, I am like a lot of people that I hear on these podcast. I don’t hate my job, I actually, really I love my boss. Twitter is one of the most amazing companies the world to work for. It doesn’t hurt and the pay is really good the benefits are amazing and the perks and everything. It’s really walking away from a lot. It’s not a job where you know, making $5000 a month and I can make $3000 a month in my e-commerce business to start or something and close that gap.
I mean there’s a huge gap compared to what I make from Lifted View and to what my paycheck is at Twitter. It’s a little bit harder to walk away from them to be honest. I don’t mean that for that to come off in a douche way. I mean, that’s just the fact that it’s hard to walkaway from that larger steady pay check and all the great benefits. If I hated my job, no matter how big the paycheck could potentially be. I think it would be a lot easier to leave but it’s really hard to leave somewhere where you have so many great friends and a company that really believe in. For me, it was always a no-brainer to like why don’t I start this on the side and see if it works. Just because the formula works doesn’t mean there’s a business behind it.
There’s a big difference between having a product that works that the people enjoy and having a business and I wanted to make sure that Lifted View was actually a business that could sustain itself and grow and not just like the initial wave of people who found this and thought it was interesting but is this going to be growing? I want to see this grow a month over month over month and make sure this is something that, "Wow, if we just keep putting more time and energy and money into this then it’s going to continue to grow. I think I wasn’t willing to kind of put all my eggs in a basket from the beginning and create this new pressure of where I had make Lifted View a source of income to live off of.
Felix: Yeah I agree with that too. It really depends on the person’s situation and I think that the kind of almost blanket’s pinion that you should always quit your job and dive into something full-time regardless of your situation. I think it’s definitely misguided especially for a lot of people because once you do make that jump. You now have a lot more risk involves which means that you might be making worst decisions because money making decisions are the short-term rather than a long-term and that sounds like having these day jobs. Having like another source of revenue, gave you those opportunities to think further out rather than thinking about a short-term revenue.
I totally agree with that. It really depends on your situation. It should be approached as a business decision, right? Do you want to kill off entire revenue stream just so you have more time or energy to focus on something else? Well, it might not be worth it yet at that particular time. I wanted to not talk about what you are just saying earlier but how you wanted to wait until Lifted View became more of a business. Let’s talk about the I guess very early days or about a year ago from now. What did you guys do early on in terms of turning it into a business? Like what marketing tactics worked for you early on?
Ben: Yeah, I think the main thing that we did honestly was leverage the Myster network of what we were doing. Myster has a mailing list. We have Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and different social media channels that we have really good presences on. We really started with using that in order to get the word out to those people because that was really a freeway for us to do it and since we do believe in the product, we thought it was kind of a great thing to be able to message, a different type of product message to the Myster fan-base. Without that, I think it would’ve been much harder slog at the beginning but that’s what allowed us to get our first sales in the door and once we were able to get the first sales in the door.
Then we were able to actually go back to people and say, “Hey, would you mind leaving us feedback whether it’s positive, negative or neutral?” We want all the feedback. As you know, it’s a snowball effect once you start getting feedback on your website and people posting online and social media like, “Wow, I can’t believe that this stuff actually work for me,” like, “This is great,” like, “I just reordered my second bottle.” There’s that social proof that so important. Especially something where people have a very, very big hesitation for which is the supplement industry. You really need that social proof. Without that social proof. You can have the greatest marketing in the world and make all the claims that you want but I think the people saying it makes a lot bigger difference. We had to get those first customers in the door.
Felix: You drop the call with [gems 00:30:08] there. I want to kind of unpack and talk about it. You sounded like your approach to create this almost a snowball effect is first get the initial sales, from there get the feedback, the referrals, the word-of-mouth and then that gets more sales and then it continues the cycle. Did you ever do anything to I guess keep this going or did you guys inject more things into this snowball, the sales snowball that you’ve created to keep it growing and prevent it from you potentially dying out?
Ben: There’s definitely a lot more that we could do, right? I’m not going to claim to be like maxing this out by any stretch of imagination at this point but what we’ve really got is we didn’t want to start ads from the beginning, right? We just thought it was a really weird like we had this supplement. We don’t even have people that have reviews yet and everything. We need to make this work organically first. Yeah, we can give it a little push here and there but like let’s not like make this a business all about advertising and you know, a customer is worth $62 to us so we are willing to pay $43 to acquire each customer and the difference is what we make on it. That seems like marketing hell to me and it seems very gimmicky so we were really, really, really strongly trying to build this slowly and organically.
We get the feedback, because if we made a mistake wanted it to be a mistake on a small number of people, right? Where we could correct things early and redo the way we’re messaging this to the market versus spending crazy amounts of money and then all of a sudden realizing like, “Oh, our market is something different,” or “We’re not messaging this correctly,” or “We’re not the right places.” I think what I’ve really failed to mention to you is this is something that started as a cannabis only product and we chose to do it as a cannabis only product because it made it more niche and we had that Myster start with it but really how Lifted View has evolved is that it’s evolving to a product that far out reaching the cannabis market because what we really are doing his we’re increasing energy and focus level in a slow and sustained way versus something like coffee or red bull or other stimulants out there. Then we’re also have component in there that you know makes it more mood balancing or you could say has an anxiety reducing effect and that’s the real trick. If you think about it clearly, I think for people who use cannabis. They understand that.
They understand the need for both of those things but it’s also the same thing that everyone wants in the workplace. It’s the same thing that moms want when they are playing with their kids in the afternoon. It’s the same thing that students want that don’t want to be taking these dangerous prescription medications for that. Our one big issue is we’re now selling to both of those types of markets, cannabis and non-cannabis but that messaging can be confusing to consumers, right? Because if they go to our website and you see things about cannabis. If you’re not cannabis user you may be very turned off from that. We get a lot of questions like does this work for non-cannabis users? We had to elect to put our horse in a race at one point, right? We chose to start with the cannabis side. Although 60% plus of our sales now are from the non-cannabis market. That could potentially be the largest growth driver for us moving forward. I don’t know if that makes sense or not but it’s …
Felix: Yeah. I think it make sense and it kind of brings up a question about this idea niching down because when anybody starting a business. They think about how can I get the most scale possible? How can I generate the most revenue possible? Or how can I maximize the level of the potential? It almost feels at least intuitively that niching down has helped cap that but usually doesn’t end that way, right? Because you kind of get a lot more attraction by just starting with a smaller niche and then from there you can either, I guess, purposefully expand your market to a larger customer base or the customers from outside your base just start coming in which sounds like what’s happening for you guys. Today, do you still make the marketing focus on the cannabis users or is it now more general marketing for anyone that needs these kind of benefits even if they’re not a cannabis user?
Ben: We really do both now to be honest. We kind of play both sides of it and just sort of deal with the fact that there’s can be some people they are asking some question of, “Does it work for me?” type thing. I think where we really need to get better as building landing pages and doing specific targeted ads that when someone lands on on what we’re doing, they can make sure that they are seeing the proper type of messaging versus coming to one website where it makes it really hard to do it. Frankly, we really haven’t done a good job of that to this point.
Felix: I see, you want to basically create … You have your site but you want to build landing pages depending on the type of customer that is coming and maybe a cannabis user or maybe a non-cannabis user. I think that makes sense. You always want to kind of cater your messaging that way. One other thing you are saying which I think should definitely be touched on is that you really want it to be hands on and very close to the market at first rather than just throw adds up and not be having your ear to the streets so to speak. Then, once you figured out the messaging and then that’s when you scale up because if you don’t take that single approach, you might be scaling up the entirely wrong copy or entirely wrong messaging in your ads. Which stage are you at now? Are you still trying to figure out that the right messaging or have been getting to the stage where you want to scale up in and throw a lot of money at ads that you think has the right messaging?
Ben: I think we are definitely at the point now where we are just starting to get ready to scale up as we’ve seen this continued organic growth and positive feedback from people. I’m definitely very cautious and hesitant with ads in general as I think that a lot of companies have a negative return on ads spend for what they do and I’ve sort of justify it through impression bombing and other things that when you get a report, make it look like you’re doing really well with your ads but in reality, you really not. That works fine for like really big companies with billion-dollar marketing budgets. I’ve sort drawn a hard line with Lifted View with my partners and said like we’re going to make a company even if it’s smaller that is a great company that does the right thing that stands by the product and it may not be a billion-dollar company or something anytime soon but I want to grow it in a way where we are not losing our shirt in it and making terrible decisions just to try to scale.
We have that with Myster, right? Which is a company that does almost a million dollars a year in revenue now already and we’ve placed big bets on things and we did really fancy branding and everything with the idea of like maybe we will be hundred million dollar company some day or something, right? I didn’t want to create another scenario with Myster where it’s sort of feast or famine and I wanted it to be like let’s have a business that is a little bit more old-fashioned, as funny as that sounds. We are like, we are going to do this in a slow and sustained way that is profitable and we make smart business decisions with this company and not lose our shirt in it.
Felix: When you say that you market through Twitter and Instagram. Can you talk a little bit about what’s involved there?
Ben: Yeah. We market through Twitter, Instragram, Facebook. We’ve tried Google ad words. I’d be lying if I said we found the secret sauce or we just pump money in and money comes back out. I think a lot of it like I said before is really not that easy to track. You know, we’ve had the most success doing, the more organic more authentic. The friend referrals. Some of the giveaways and stuff where people of been introduced to the product. I honestly don’t believe that much especially for a product like this, I don’t believe in a lot of the traditional marketing. I’m not a fan of ad words. I think everybody and their brother’s on Facebook ads like trying to make it work, a few years ago that was probably even better than it is today. I know there’s a lot of companies that do really well with those ads but I think it’s getting more and more crowded everyday and are getting more and more numb to all different types of advertising like clearly like we’ve been numbed to TV commercials and banner ads and things for a long time where a lot of people have been but I think some of the stuff that was working and providing that return on ads spend positivity is really quickly deteriorating as everyone is trying to give them the same space and compete for the same eyeballs.
Felix: Yeah, I see what you mean. You’re saying that you like to take a must organic approach and the pen on referrals and these giveaways. For those things to be successful, don’t you need like the attention or the traffic to be focused or to at least hear about the products at first or to buy our products at first before people start referring or to have some initial groups or initial people in a giveaway before they start promoting the giveaway themselves? I guess I am having a little bit of a hard time understanding what is the kick off for all of these almost like snowball effect going back to what I was saying before, the snowball effect that you guys have trailed. How do you feed it?
Ben: Well, we are super fortunate with Lifted View that we have the Myster network to plug into. I mean, Myster has Instagram handle with your 60,000 followers and email list that has 10,000 plus subscribers to it. Obviously, all the web traffic we get and then we partnered with other influencers out there. Some that have million plus followings that do some of the promotion for us there which isn’t a traditional advertising, right? Like it’s not one of the big ones like paying for clicks or something like that but it can reach a ton of people in my opinion in a more cost-effective way. That’s how I think we get a lot of our initial push out there. Then, like I said, we rely on if you’re running a contest on something like Instagram for example and you say like, “Hey, tag a friend and we are going to pick five people here publicly and give a free sample or free bottles of two,” or something like that.
It’s shocking how many people will do it, right? Like it’s not it’s not that hard to get people to get in the stuff if you ask them to do it and there’s a benefit in there for them. I know what I’m saying would probably make a lot of more traditional marketers cringed and I do admit that we are at point at the point now where we finally have in my opinion, the amount of positive feedback and the number of sales and everything to feel comfortable really scale it out but I really wanted to build this because this is something that people are putting in their bodies in a much more organic way than just cranking out the ads and seeing how much reach we could get from the beginning.
Ben: I hope that people can see that. I hope that the people that see us online and come to our site and you’ll hear me talking on podcasts. I hope they they understand that, that like we get that it’s not maybe the world’s greatest marketing but it is kind of the way we chose to do it for Lifted View because of the type of product that it is.
Felix: Yeah. That makes sense. I can see why you don’t want to be and much more kind of slow methodical about it because it is something that people put insider their bodies and not just like selling a t-shirt or something.
Ben: I think one of the things that we do to that’s really important is we offer everyone 100% money back guarantee on their first product, right? There’s a lot of people. I mean, the question I get all day, every day is like, “Hey, can I get a free sample?” Right? I’ve I made a decision early on that instead of just like sending out the sample packs, where someone gets say four capsules in a pack. It doesn’t have a chance to really test the product in various ways or experiment with different levels of dosage or anything. Why don’t we say, “Hey, like buy a bottle. That way we can qualify that this is someone who is actually willing to buy a bottle, right?”
If you get a lot of people that just want free stuff and no matter how great it is, they are just never going to spend money on it. Let’s make sure we move those people out of the way and then say, “Hey, buy a bottle. Try it. Now you 30 capsules to start with at least. If you don’t like it for any reason it doesn’t work for you, just tell us and we’ll give you your money back.” What easier way to get somebody in the door and say “We will refund your money. You don’t even have to send us the product back. Just send us an email and say, it didn’t work for me. Within 24 hours, you have the money back on your credit card,” right? That’s a much easier way I think to get people in the door.
Felix: Yeah. I think that a great point to bring up and three other things I want to say about this. About why you want to take this approach where you want to pay you for something first and then on the back end, if they want to get a refund. Give them a refund rather than giving out free samples. First thing is that, people that are used to spending money with you even though this is one time are much more likely to spend money with you again just because they had that trust already. They already understand what that process is like to pay you. Instead you give someone free sample and you don’t qualify them like you are saying. It also kind of increases the perceived value, right? When you are giving out free samples all time. There is just like no perceived … Not necessarily like no perceive value but will have a definitely decreased perceived value than if they were to pay for it.
The last thing is that when you pay for something, you are just much more likely to use it, right? If someone gives you something for free. Take it but you might not be compelled to use it because you didn’t any skin in the game. You didn’t shell out any money for it but once you pay for something, even if you get a refund later. You are just much more likely to use it, I think. In order for people to be interested or excited about your brand. They have to be using it, right? They can’t just have it sitting on their shelf or somewhere. They have to actually be using it. I think that’s a great approach for you to take and I think it makes a lot of sense that why you want to get someone to pay for it so then it gives them a refund if they don’t want it versus giving up free samples.
Ben: Yeah. I think you’re right. I think also, the underlying message is, “Hey, we know this is a shady industry. We know that many people have been taking advantage in the supplement industry before what we’re doing may seem like it’s hokey, that it’s not actually going to work. We can’t build a business model of selling you a bottle and having you go away, right? That doesn’t work because everybody is just going to ask for their money back.” We are still taking that conversation off the table by saying, “Hey, our business is not to trick you and get you to buy a bottle and move and market to the next person, that’s what so many of these companies are.” We are saying like, “We need you to be a repeat customer or at least at the minimum enjoy your order or we are going to go out of business because everyone is going to ask for the money back.”
Felix: Right. Makes sense. Cool. I want talk a little bit about running the business before we close out this interview. In terms of your day, because you have this day job. I am not sure what your partners’ situations are but obviously you have to balance a lot of things that are going on between your day job, the two businesses and the nonprofit that you started. How do you start today? How do you figure out how to spend your day because there’s so much going on?
Ben: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the three people that are involved in Lifted View. There’s a medical doctor who is in charge of your the research and making sure they were doing everything the correct way and messaging when people email us and asks specific medical questions. We have a doctor who is answering and not just me. He’s one of them. Then we have Davis who is also my partner Myster and he’s in charge of all of the shipping and the logistics. We’re able to piggyback off what Myster does with shipping in the fulfillment center which is huge for us because this most people who ship products understand that there’s a good a real pain if you’re the person doing the marketing but then you’re printing labels and running to the post office or whatever you do. To be able to pull it under one roof is a huge advantage and takes that all that off my plate and that allows me to work on all the other stuff, right?
Which is coming up with changing the website around, experimenting with new price points or ideas. Working with different influencers, creating new marketing campaigns. I am basically the catch-all guy for all the rest of the stuff. My typical day is get up early, I try to start work by 7:30 or so at the latest. I try to do Lifted View. My Myster stuff. My gym stuff so by the time I get to work at 9 o’clock I’ve already done all of my other stuff that has nothing to do with my job that’s paying me a salary, right? Then when I go home at night, I can do the same thing again. For me, it is really a part-time thing, right? Like I’m not cranking this out for four hours a day. Certainly not for eight hours a day at some point in the future as we continue to grow, that may be the case but right now I’m sort of the juggling a lot of balls to make it work.
Felix: You have any idea of the sales for Myster? You said that it’s almost million-dollar business. Can you give us an idea of how well Lifted View is doing?
Ben: Yeah, so we do about $5000 a month right now in sales. It’s really been growing pretty nicely from when we first started. Obviously, we were doing pennies, right? Order here and order there. A big day would be no $150 in sales and we really have been steadily growing especially over the last month or so. We’ve seen the sales pick up pretty steadily and the we don’t see any reason, especially considering of how little that we’ve been doing correctly in so many ways. We don’t see any reason like if we start to do those things that we know need to be done and we just haven’t put the time into and the creativity into it that we can’t make this a much larger business.
Felix: You are saying, before that you guys have the benefit of having the marketing channels that Myster already built out with that 10,000 plus mailing lists, the Instagram profiles but if someone out there doesn’t have those things that you could focus more on finding partnerships. People that have a large Instagram followings or maybe pay for their assistance with Instagram or maybe with a mailing list. Even though you have these kind of channels setup, you you still have to use them correctly so what’s your approach when it comes to … Let’s start off with the mailing list. What are you sending out to the Myster mailing list to introduce them to a totally different product. What’s that process like?
Ben: We’ve obviously done more than a couple of mailings at this point to that list. It’s not too different than anybodies probably standard newsletter or mailing list. We are just focusing on that one product though when we come out and say like, “Hey, from the founders or from the creators of Myster, we’ve made this new product.” We talk about what it is, the money back guarantee. We realized that keeping the text much simpler having really pretty pictures in there and ultimately you don’t need to tell everyone everything in a piece of marketing material. You need to get them to go to your site where they can actually buy stuff, right? Like no one can buy anything from the email.
No one can buy anything from our Instagram page. We have to get them to come to our Shopify page and that’s the whole goal, right? I think when you make a new product at the beginning the hesitation or the tendency is for most people who want to tell people every single detail of what’s going on right? You want to tell them everything you know but that’s not really the right thing to do unless you get them to the right place to do that first, right? We need to give them the information that gets them excited or interested or intrigued and then we need to get them to our website where they can actually learn more and make their purchase. If we are not getting them to the website, then it’s really worthless.
Felix: You said that you spent at least a portion of your day figuring out what adjustments to make to the website. Are there any particular experiments that you’ve done recently that had a big impact on the convergence?
Ben: Yeah. We’ve added a recurring model. For people which is not uncommon in the supplement industry, we have a price. It’s $30 a bottle or $29.95 a bottle. If you get one bottle but then we have a recurring price where if you get you two bottles a month for $39 a month. It’s incrementally not a ton more but for us, because so many of our costs are fixed in the shipping and you know the distribution of everything. You’re only paying for like that second bottle and it’s much better for us to get people on that recurring subscription even though we don’t make a ton difference on either purchase once they are on that recurring subscription. Then they can keep getting the auto shipment each month. It’s much better for us. We’ve got a very low turn rate which is nice on that as well.
Felix: Which app do you use to for the recurring payments?
Ben: We use Recharge and they’ve been super helpful to work with so far and definitely no complaints there.
Felix: Do you outsource any of your task to either people or for like the distribution? Anything like that? Are there any tools or other people that you rely on outside of the core group to run the business?
Ben: We have one contracted employee down in Georgia who actually helps us mostly with marketing and customer service. As we’re looking to put in for example a new review system on to the site. She’s in charge of making all that happen. Importing that over, she manages our Facebook page and does a lot of the stuff that falls to the crack and we wouldn’t have time to do without her.
Felix: Awesome. Other than the effort that you put into with the mailing list and with Instagram and everything are there any other marketing channels that you’re planning on exploring any time soon?
Ben: No. I think it’s like we really haven’t even done this stuff on the big ones, right? We haven’t tapped into … We’ve tapped into 1% of the influencers. We’ve never really figured out how to make Google ad words work right. We’ve never really try to do Facebook or Instagram or Twitter at serious scale yet. I fee like we haven’t even crossed the bridge of a lot of that the big ones yet. We also haven’t put a lot of time in the SCO. I am a really big believer in the ad words is kind of like crack. Once you get hooked on there, that becomes your business of paying per click and converting a customer that cost a certain dollar amount. Needing to get him in this narrow window where they become real as positive. I think that’s a very dangerous game, right? I would rather invest that time and that money trying to create ways that are going to outlive a single ad campaign. When someone is searching for the type of things for example on Google. How do we show up on that first page and putting more time and energy and money in there than putting it into sort of the quick hit from from the ad words campaign.
Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much Ben. Liftedview.com is the most recent store and then getmyster.com is G-E-T-M-Y-S-T-E-R .com is the other site. Anywhere else that you recommend the listeners to check out if they want to learn more about what you’ve been up to? Or any other things that you have coming up?
Ben: You can find me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is moobypong, M-O-O-B-Y-P-O-N-G. If anybody’s interested in the nonprofit martial arts world and wants to see more about that, that website is guardiangym.org. If you want to see what we are doing out here in Oakland.
Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much, Ben.
Ben: Thanks for having me, Felix.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters. The e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com for free 14-day trial.
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About The Author
Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, and founder of TrafficAndSales.com where you can get actionable tips to grow your store’s traffic and sales.