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Fame Didn't Do Any Favors For This NFL Player Turned Entrepreneur

man wearing backpack with ice shaker, shopify masters logo in corner

With more and more celebrities and athletes launching successful businesses, it might seem like being famous gives you a big headstart. But that doesn't get you out of all the things that can make succeeding in business hard.  

Chris Gronkowski is a former NFL player who learned the hard way that having a sizeable following is no substitute for marketing.

In today's episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll hear about the humbling moment when he realized that simply pushing his product wasn't going to be enough, and how he built his ecommerce business from scratch to do $3 million in sales.

Ice Shaker is the ultimate cup used for every aspect of a healthy lifestyle.

A brand new product, and you’re on top of the world. But people out there who have never heard of it before aren’t going to jump on the bandwagon because you think it’s cool, just because they follow you.

Tune in to also learn

  • Why you should read product reviews when designing a new product
  • How to address people that say they can get the same product for free
  • How to change your ads if your buyers are different than the end user
Don't miss an episode! Subscribe to Shopify Masters.
  

Show Notes

ice shaker on shark tank
The Ice Shaker team after their Shark Tank appearance.

Transcript

Felix: Today I’m joined by Chris Gronkowski from Ice Shaker. Ice Shaker’s the ultimate cup used for every aspect of a healthy lifestyle and has done three million dollars in sales. It was started in 2016 and based out of South Lake, Texas. Welcome, Chris.

Chris: Hey, thanks for having me on the show.

Felix: Yeah. Excited to have you on. You told us that you’re a former NFL player and had a great social media following but that means nothing when you try to sell a product no one has ever heard of before. So, tell us a little more about this. Were you able to leverage any of that experience? Or any of that background?

Chris: Oh man. So, yeah. That was an eye-opener for me. When I first started posting and really trying to push product through social media. I had a decent following from playing, from being an athlete, from being an NFL player. When it came down to it, I thought it’d be pretty easy to throw a couple of posts up, get a bunch of sales. That was the exact opposite of what happened.

Chris: Brand new product, you’re on top of the world, you think it’s the best thing ever. But your customers, people out there have never heard of it before, aren’t just going to jump on the bandwagon just because you think it’s cool, just because they follow you. You really have to build some kind of proof of concept, some kind of reviews, and really start building a brand before you actually are able to sell a product, no matter how big your following is.

Felix: Got it. Even though you have a brand, a personal brand, it’s not good enough. You might be, it might give you the kind of opportunity to present yourself but you still need to have a product that is, that some people want or that they need. You need to be solving some type of problem. Talk to us through it. What was the original idea behind the product? What problem were you trying to solve?

Chris: Yeah. The idea of the product came about on a hot day in Texas. I was out of the NFL at that time. I was continuing to work out every single day. When I’d go to the gym, I’d get my own, get a shaker bottle. I’d make a pre-workout or something like that to bring to the gym with me. By the time I got there, it would be warm. My bottle smelled awful. I was actually making designs out of the sweat rings that were coming off the bottle, on the gym floor.

Chris: That’s when the idea hit me. Why isn’t there something better out there, on the market? Some kind of bottle that, not only could I bring to the gym but then also use all day, every day?

Chris: I went on a search. Got home that day. Went on Amazon. Went on Google, figured that I’d type it in and something would pop up. That it was something I just hadn’t seen yet. Kind of like every good idea that you think you have, you go online and there it is. But I went home that day, I looked everywhere, and there was nothing on the market that was insulated with a shaker top on it. That’s when the idea hit me. At that point, I said, “I’m going to make the best shaker bottle that I possibly can make.”

Felix: Got it. You do, also, mention to us that you also have to test this before you jump all the way in. Once you saw that you had a problem, you couldn’t find the solutions out there for it, did you first start to test it? How did you know that there were other people out there that were searching for this product or that had this problem?

Chris: For me, first I had to make it. That was the hard part. First, I had to figure out exactly what people wanted, the material I wanted to make it out of. I went with a kitchen grade stainless steel. I knew that one of the issues with the shaker bottles that everyone knew, if you were a user of a shaker bottle, you’re making protein shakes, everyone knows that if you leave protein in them, they’re going to smell absolutely awful. I wanted to get a material, right from the get-go, I knew was going to solve this issue. The kitchen grade stainless steel won’t absorb the odor like the plastic shaker bottle does. Even if you leave protein in there, it’s going to smell, no matter what, because it’s going to rot after a couple of days. But with the stainless steel, you could pretty much just rinse it with water and that smell’s gone.

Chris: First, I had to figure out really what I was looking for in the product. Went from that to asking what other stainless steel bottles on the market. I did a lot of research on that to see why these weren’t successful. Other shaker bottles on the market that were stainless steel, they weren’t insulated. When you put cold in them, stainless steel is actually a conductor, so, they were absolutely freezing cold. A lot colder than a plastic shaker bottle would be and would sweat even more. Besides that though, the reviews were pretty good about the fact that they were stainless steel and they weren’t absorbing the odor like the plastic ones were.

Chris: Really put those two together, figured I’d make something that was vacuum insulated, that was going to hold ice for a long time, wasn’t going to sweat. Then, pretty much, looked at every other product out there, their reviews, to see what other people wanted, what they were looking for, and tried to put together a product from that.

Chris: Started getting prototypes made, getting them sent in, and really just settled on a bottle that wasn’t the greatest, at the time, but would help me figure out if there was a demand for this product.

Chris: Our very first bottle came out. We had it shipped in small quantities. At that point, it was just all about testing the market and trying to figure out if people actually wanted this product or not.

Felix: Got it. You mentioned a couple of things there which is around looking at reviews. I think it’s important because you’re doing this kind of research before you dove in so you could, at least, get some of the ideas beyond what features are important to your target customers.

Felix: Where were you looking for these reviews? What specifically were you looking for? Positive things, negative things? What did you find most helpful?

Chris: I was looking, I was looking everywhere, anywhere you can find reviews. For the most part, the ones that are going to be the most accurate are usually on Amazon.

Chris: What I was looking for, for the most part, was just the negative reviews to see what people didn’t like so that I could then fix that issue. I’d go on and really look at … But I would also read the positive, as well, to see what people really enjoyed about the product. So, when I was looking at other stainless steel shaker bottles out there already, I liked looking at the positive and seeing that people were commenting about the stainless saying that it was a lot better than having a plastic bottle.

Chris: Then, on the same, I would look at, that same product, I’d look at the negative reviews and see that people were complaining about the fact that it wasn’t insulated, that it was freezing cold when they put ice in it.

Chris: So, really, both the positive and the negative reviews are huge indicators of what people like and what they don’t like. Definitely look at both of them to get a better idea of what customers really find important in a product.

Felix: Got it. Sounds like you, obviously, had to combine both the positive and negative feedback of these reviews into your new design, your new product. The positives are things that almost are must haves that you have to come to the table with these things.

Felix: The negatives are things that you can improve in, or on the value add or the core value proposition that you’re bringing to the table. That sounds like, basically, what you’re able to piece together.

Felix: Now that you have this idea of the product that you want to build, what were the steps to … It sounds like you guys have released the first version, slash, almost like a prototype, at first. Did you know that was what it was, at first? Did you feel like you almost had a finished product at that time, when you got that first initial, small order?

Chris: At the time, I thought it was a finished product. I thought it was pretty good, at the time. Looking back now, it’s funny because we’ve made so many improvements since then.

Chris: But no, it was the final version. We put it out there and from that, we just took the customer feedback and continued to improve the product. Anytime we had a bad review, I was reading. Anytime we had a good review, I was reading them. But I was really trying to figure out what customers wanted. We tried to move as fast as we possibly could, after we really got some decent feedback from our first couple thousand bottles that sold.

Chris: Anytime someone mentioned something … And we encouraged it, as well. We would send out emails, asking people for their feedback, asking them if there was anything that we could do better, any other features that they’d like to see. We collected this data to then make, immediately make, a version two and get it out before we actually aired on Shark Tank. Within the first year, we already had made a second bottle and released it, as well.

Felix: Awesome. When you were selling, when you got that first, the first run, the first order that came in and you started to test to see if there was … Where were you selling? Were you selling it on your own site or were you selling on the marketplace? What’s the best way to get started? ’Cause you’re at a stage where it sounded like you felt you had a finished product. But you’re still very much testing. So, looking back, how would you set up the test differently, if you were to do it all over again?

Chris: Yeah. I mean, it was … I guess I would put more into product development. If I went back, I would’ve tested it by sending out free products to more people and really get it into people’s hands first, before making a big run or decent run or even finalizing on the molds on the product. It’s so hard to see what other people are seeing. When you look at it from your own perspective, you think it’s great. Every one of your friends around you are going to, pretty much, tell you that it’s great.

Chris: But really, once you get it out into the public that you really start seeing the flaws or start seeing the stuff that you could’ve done that people really like. After that, our third version that we just released, when we brought in the lids for it, we sent out, we brought in just the lids. We sent them to over 500 customers before we actually started putting that lid on our bottles. We really wanted to get the feedback from them, make sure there’s absolutely no flaws in our newest line of lids, with our 2019 launches. If there was any issues, we wanted to change them before we started mass producing it. We really learned that as we went on to really test it by putting it into customer’s hands before making final decisions on product designs.

Felix: Right. So, 500 customers. These were for this 2019 version. These were existing customers?

Chris: It was customers that had bought from us or were having issues with their current lid that they had. We then were replacing them for free with what we thought was a better version which ended up being a lot better version that everyone absolutely loves now.

Chris: Yeah, anyone that had an issue, in the past or any type of issue, going forward, we were just sending them new lids for free to really test out and give us feedback on them, and see if there was anything we could improve with it before we put it into mass production.

Felix: Got it. When you were first starting out, it sounded like you were taking the same approach. But, I’m assuming, you didn’t really have any customers, at that point, but you wanted to give it out for free to get that feedback.

Felix: How were you finding the right people to give it to? How do find … ’Cause the feed … Like you mentioned, the feedback from friends and family, it might be different than the public, right? The people that don’t know you, that are strangers, essentially, their feedbacks going to be different than people that know you. How do you, basically, get the product into the right people’s hands? Especially early on when you don’t have a customer base yet?

Chris: Yeah, that was the hardest part, really launching the product from the ground up. You have nothing to go off of. If you don’t have an email list or customers in the past to really build on.

Chris: What we had to do was just start doing shows. We had to go to … Started with just smaller, bodybuilding shows. We’d go and set up a booth and were able to get the product in front of people, show them the difference between what ours was, what was already out on the market, put it in their hands. Really, once they felt it and they saw the difference, we started getting movement on the product.

Chris: Before that, it was so hard because people had no clue what it was. So, finding them, really, you just have to go out there, set up a booth, put it in front of people. I mean, we were hawking people down, just to get them over to the booth, at first. But that’s what you have to do.

Chris: Then, you have to see their reaction in person, as well. A true reaction is going to be the first immediate reaction to a product. So, once we started putting it in their hands and they were seeing the difference between what we had and what was on the market, they were surprised by it. Most people were then buying right on the spot. That’s when we knew that we had something that people wanted.

Felix: Got it. This is an important point. When I asked you that question, a lot of people might be thinking where do you go online to find the right people? You’re saying go in person, go to where people are hanging out, in person. Then, gauge their reaction that way. When someone comes up to the booth, they, you … How does that work? You’re presenting them the product. Do you approach them as if you’re trying to sell it and see if they’ll buy? How do you get the right data, I guess, if someone wants to repeat this process by setting up a booth at some kind of show that is in their industry?

Chris: Yeah. I mean, basically, we went in. I had no clue what to expect at the first booth. I was hoping that if we just sold 20 bottles, it would be a lot. I think that first show, we ended up selling 50 to 80 of them. Something like that. But it was a good enough amount that I actually went back to a, I had to have my wife go back to our house and get more product. We actually did a lot better than we thought.

Chris: Really, that’s all we were looking for was that reaction. Were people going to actually buy it? If we gave them the pitch, were they just going to go, “Hey, that’s a really cool idea,” and then walk away?

Chris: Or were they going to say, “Hey, I love this product. Let me buy one right here, right now.”

Chris: That’s how we gauged if it was successful. I would, probably, say that in person, it gives you a good read because you see the people. But a lot of people also fold to pressure in person. Especially if you’re a good salesman. You’re really going to get the people, the haters, really to come out and really give you an honest opinion online when they’re sitting behind a computer and not facing you, face to face.

Chris: Another great indication of how the product’s doing and what needs to be fixed, all that, is getting reviews online. We used Amazon, at first, to really help us out because we didn’t have that customer base. This is something that I really, and I’ve talked to people about in the past and recommend doing, is using another platform’s customer base to get started. You really have nothing to work off of, at all. You’re at ground zero. You have no customer base. You have nothing. If you’re able to use someone else’s, just to get you started, it’s a huge help. So, we did use Amazon, early on. The majority of our sales came from Amazon. All the reviews on there, as well, really helped launch the product and give us trust in our brand.

Felix: Got it. When you are doing this pitch, in person, do you remember, what were the key features or key, I guess, value that you wanted to get across about your product? Is that pitch the same, these days?

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. We take what else was on the market at the time, so, an uninsulated stainless bottle, we’d fill it with ice. We’d take a plastic bottle and we’d fill it with ice. And we’d take another plastic bottle and we’d fill it with protein and let it set for a couple of days and tell people not to open it because it smells so bad.

Chris: Once we filled ours with ice, we’d hand it to people and say, “Hey, check this out. Ours has ice in it. Now hold this one. And the one next to it.” It would be freezing, it’d be sweating, there’d be condensation everywhere. People were so impressed that they would actually say there’s no way there’s ice in your bottle. They’d take the lid off and check and see if there’s actually ice in it. You know, of course, it was real ice in it. But, at that point, it was kind of like, “Oh, wow. This is absolutely awesome. I need to have it.”

Chris: So, same pitch all the way to today. Our first bottle was very basic. We have so many more features on our newest bottles. The pitch just keeps getting better and better.

Felix: Yeah. I like this approach because you’re not using words so much to sell it. You’re demonstrating in front of them why your product is superior to the competing products out there.

Chris: Absolutely. That’s absolutely huge. Once we actually put the bottle in somebody’s hands, it was hard for them to say no because it was so superior to what else was on the market, at the time.

Felix: Do you remember how much you were selling for those bottles at that time? Is it the same price point as it is today?

Chris: We were selling, our very first version, we were selling at $24.99. We do sell our bottles for more now. Once we added some features onto the bottles, we did raise our price up to $30.00.

Felix: Got it. Did it ever cross people’s mind where, “Okay, 24, $25.00, I get this for free if I buy my protein and everything.”

Felix: Did that come across people’s minds, did you ever have to approach and find out how to address that kind of objection?

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a problem that we were running into early on. Especially when we were trying to get into retail stores like GNC. We actually are now in 3500 GNCs. Yeah, that was the first thing that came across every time. You know, “Why am I going to buy your shaker? It’s so much more expensive when I’m getting them for free.”

Chris: Really, to combat that, we showed them all the features. We showed them how awesome it was. But we compared our bottle, not to other shaker bottles, but to other bottles on the market that are similar to it. So, stuff like a Yeti or a Hydro Flask where these are vacuum insulated, kitchen grade, stainless steel. They’re actually a lot more expensive than our bottle and have less features than ours do.

Chris: So, when people said that, we had to redirect them and get away from the fact that it’s not just for the gym. I mean, everyone thinks it’s a shaker bottle, I can only use it for the gym. It’s really the ultimate bottle that can be used all day, for everything. That was really the purpose of it when I made it was, “I love this. I’d love to bring it to the gym but [inaudible] using a bottle for work and then going to the gym, using another bottle, and then, going home and [inaudible 00:18:28].”

Chris: It was really just a bottle used for everything, all day, every day. But could also be used at the gym. Once we got that into people’s minds and really compared it to something like a Yeti, they saw that this actually had more value, was actually a better price than what’s actually comparable to what it is.

Felix: Got it. You change the product that your product is anchored to. You don’t compare it to the free product. You compare it to a more expensive product that’s on the market that is superior to the free product. But then, you’re also now showing that your product is giving more value because it has the same features plus more. That’s a great point.

Felix: You mentioned that you used Amazon at first, to get things off the ground and to get the review and to get that credibility by having reviews. Talk to us about that. How did you set up your Amazon business? How were you able to get those early customers? How did they discover you guys on Amazon?

Chris: Yeah, that’s actually, that was a challenge. I mean, when you first go onto any platform, it’s tough. You have to figure out and navigate the rules of that platform.

Chris: I had some experience with this, with our first business that we had. Actually, my wife started a business while I was still playing in the NFL. It started through Etsy. It started the same way as Ice Shaker did. I followed the same path where she didn’t have a customer base at first. She used Etsy to help really get it going, to get customers. The first thing we ran into was how do I make a good listing that people are going to actually click on? How do I get to the top of the first page, was, really, the main challenge.

Chris: This all came into play, as well, on Amazon. Same exact thing. What I did was, and the only thing I could think of was, “Hey, why are these other ones on the front page for shaker bottle?”

Chris: All I did was, I went through every listing. The top three listings, the top five listings, whatever it was on the front page, per the terms that I was trying to write for. I tried to figure out why they were there and why I wasn’t there. I looked through it, looked at pictures. I’d really look at the key words, look at their descriptions, look how everything was done on the listing. Then, I tried to duplicate what the best ones were doing and test it to see if I would then get boosted up in the rankings on Google’s, or on Amazon’s search. Just kept doing that until, finally, I was on that front page. Once I was on that front page, that’s when things started to pick up.

Felix: Yeah. There’s so many variables, right? You mentioned all the product description, the title, the pictures. There’s so many things that you could, that you could see on a product that is listed on the top.

Felix: How did you know which ones to pick out? How did you set up your test so that you weren’t just running around with your head cut off? There’s so many different things you could try to fix or change.

Chris: Yeah. It’s crazy now because even now, when I try to, I do a new product, I can’t even … It’s always changing, too. It gets more and more complicated, as the years go on.

Chris: When I did it then, it seemed to be a lot easier. You changed something or you add a couple key words and you’d add them in the title and the description. Then, all of a sudden, you’re on the front page for that term.

Chris: Same with just images that I thought helped a lot, too. Whereas, if you had good images and they were clean, they looked good, then, you had really good supporting images to really show people a full 360 degree view of the product, it seemed to really, really help, and also boost your ratings. Really keep people on that page which, I think, bumped up the algorithm.

Chris: Really, was looking at the top two and saying, “Hey, I’m going to pretty much copy what they’re doing and how they’re writing descriptions and photos and stuff like that. See if it works.”

Chris: For the most part, it worked for us. That was it. Like I say, I think the algorithm every year gets harder and harder to figure out.

Chris: We are still launching and putting new products out every week. We actually just launched a new product this week. A 36 ounce bottle. It’s not on Amazon yet. When we try to put it on, it will be a challenge to try to get it onto that front page.

Felix: Yeah, I like that approach. I respect that approach where you’re not just trying to make all these tweaks and invent the process yourself. Just look at what’s working and copy. Do it the way that they did it and, of course, you want to add onto that by pointing out the difference between your product versus theirs rather than trying to carve your own path. Find out what’s working and do what they did.

Felix: You mentioned that … I’m not sure how much you’re able to do this in person. You mentioned that your most, 2019 version of the bottle, you sent out for free to 500 customers. You wanted to gather feedback. What’s the best way to … How do you gather feedback when you are putting out a product out there to test? What kind of questions are you asking, to get the right kind of feedback?

Chris: Yeah, for sure. We want to go out there. When you give it free, it’s kind of tough because you want an honest opinion. Most of the time, when you give someone something for free, they’re going to tell you it’s great. You really want to dig down and ask them. What’s cool is that, when we were sending it to these people, they were people that were having issues with the previous one. They were outspoken about it and let us know. I knew they would be good people to test the newest and better lid with. I think, because of that reason, I was getting really honest opinions back about it. That was, definitely, a good way to do it.

Chris: Other ways to do it is you can offer both. That’s also something that we did a little bit was we would send both versions of it. We did this with straws, actually. We were having some issues with stainless steel straws that we were selling with our tumblers. Some customers were just saying it made their drink taste like metal. Some were saying it was really noisy. Some people were saying it was dangerous. Whereas they were drinking and they would put it to their mouth too fast and it would hit their tooth. Stuff like that. Or it would just get really hot with hot drinks.

Chris: So, we brought in a tritan straw that was really durable, shatterproof, was made for hot and cold drinks. We tested that out. We sent them both. We started bringing the product with both. When they purchased, we didn’t even tell them that it was coming with both. We’d just send it out. Then, we’d follow up with them and say, “Hey, we know you received our version of the product with both straws. Can you tell us which one you like better?”

Chris: From that, we were able to figure out that people liked the idea of the stainless steel straw because they felt like it was more expensive and it was a cleaner version. But when they actually used both, people were actually liking the tritan, which is a form of plastic. They were liking it better but they weren’t buying it just because they thought the plastic was cheaper. Even though it really wasn’t. This is an upgraded plastic. It actually costs us the same price. But people just had this opinion that stainless steel straw’s a better straw. It’s going to be more expensive. At the end of the day, once we actually tested it, everyone liked the tritan plastic straw better. We actually switched over our product to that because of the issues that we were having with the stainless steel. So, that’s just another great way to really test the market and see what people actually like better.

Felix: That’s got to be a big challenge, right? Where you are, you have two versions of the same product. One, people have higher perceived value for and might pay more, might be more willing to buy. But it’s a weaker product. They’re not as happy with it compared to the product that is not perceived as valuable.

Felix: How do you address that in your own mind? It seems like the metallic one is going to be a better representation. Again, it’s going to be easier to market. People are more willing to buy that one. But it’s not as good of a product. So, how do you justify that in your head, which direction you want to go?

Chris: It was a challenge, for sure. It really came down to the fact that, you know, some people, a lady chipped her tooth on a stainless steel straw. It really came down to just being a safety concern for us.

Chris: After we tested as well and everyone liked the tritan straw better, what we had to do was we just had to educate people on why we were changing it. We ended up shooting out email blasts. We ended up putting the straw and a big description why we were now selling it with the tritan straw. We did, also, leave the stainless steel straw available on our site for purchase, at a cheap price. We put it on the site for $1.00, $1.25, maybe, is what it was. We gave people the option to still buy it but really highlighted the fact to why we changed it so they would know it wasn’t something that we just didn’t save money because that was the reason people thought we were switching. But we really had to drive the point home that this is a better product. We’re always taking your advice. We’re taking your feedback. We’re trying to improve.

Chris: By doing that, people then saw that and really once people that were re-buying, that were getting the new straw, they were actually thanking us for making a better product.

Felix: Right. I think that’s the key right there, the education piece. You might be able to sell more of an inferior product. But, in the end, it’s not going to be as, the longevity isn’t going to be there. If you aren’t going to be happy with it, they’re not going to repeat buy, they’re not going to evangelize your product. So, I think you always go with the superior product. The product that is going to make that customer experience better once they actually have their hands on your product. Then, educate them while you’re doing it. That way, even though the product might be perceived initially as a weaker product. So, I think that’s exactly right.

Felix: Sounds like you guys take this feedback. Feedback from customers is really important to you guys. You’re able to act on it quickly. How was your manufacturing setup so that you can be so responsive and swap things in and out and redesign your product so frequently?

Chris: It’s tough. It is because every time we do it, we have to then, get rid of the old stock. Then, we also have to make the molds and pay the tooling fees. Then, test the product. It’s not easy but we know that that’s what going to, that’s how we’re going to survive is if we continue to improve, if we continue to give our customers what we want.

Chris: That’s really been the life of the story. It has taken us from one product, really, just a little over a year ago, just one bottle, a 26 ounce bottle. I think at that time, we had a couple of different color variations. Just from what people are looking for, we’ve really expanded and now have over, we have six different bottles and over 80 SKUs at this time. Really, all that was driven from what customers are looking for. If they’re asking for a smaller bottle, larger bottle, different colors, all that, we really keep in mind and are able to bring them in and act on them as soon as we collect enough data. If people are constantly asking for the same thing, that’s easy to really bring in and get it going.

Chris: We’re also then trying to look at our own data and say, “Hey, what are we missing?” That was one of the biggest things that we brought in was a tumbler. We brought it in because, looking at our data, we realized that most of the people buying our product were women. We didn’t think that was going to be the case. I thought it was going to be guys around my age that were buying it. But we figured out, early on, that it was mostly women buying the product. They were buying it for their husbands or their kids or their grandkids. We realized really quick that they weren’t buying anything for themselves. So, we brought in the tumblers, was our third bottle we brought in.

Chris: First, we had the 26 ounce. We brought in the 16 ounce. We were having a lot of requests for a smaller shaker bottle. Then, we brought in the tumblers right away because we realized that we were missing out on that whole demographic of the women that were purchasing but weren’t purchasing anything for themselves. We used that data to bring it in and realized that the tumblers, immediately, became a home run for us and really became a really, really good seller.

Felix: You were tracking the data and the feedback.

Felix: What’s the system you have set up? How do you have a cohesive view on everything? It sounds like it’s coming from different angles. People are telling you, maybe, in person or sending emails or they’re leaving reviews, there are data that you’re observing from traffic on your site. How do you collect all of this and make a decision?

Chris: One of, which is something that I stumbled upon, was the fact that you could take emails from actual purchase emails and you could then put them into Facebook, at the time. With that, Facebook was actually going to find these people that purchased from you. They find their profiles. Then, you would be able to look at the whole breakdown of who was purchasing from you. This was before the whole privacy acts that went into effect recently. Yeah, it would break down your demographics. It was crazy the amount of information that they had. Obviously, male versus female. Household income. Where they lived. Where they worked. The websites they liked. All that kind of stuff. How many people were in their house. Education levels.

Chris: Facebook, at the time, was giving you all of this. That was a great way for us, early on, to really figure out who was purchasing from us. I think it was around our first 10000 to 15000 purchases, we then put that back into Facebook and really broke down exactly who was buying from us. That, at the time, was actually huge because it was really hard for us to really figure out who was actually buying the product. Once we saw that and saw the breakdown, that’s, immediately, when we knew that we had to bring in a product that was more geared towards women.

Felix: Yeah. That’s an interesting problem to have where the women are buying the products but they’re buying for someone else, at that time.

Felix: How did you … So, you introduced a new product to address this customer base. But if you wanted to continue selling your existing product, how do you change up your marketing, if the buyer is different than the user?

Chris: I don’t think you really need to.

Chris: You can actually, we actually played upon that. We changed some of the ads to be … We knew what was working. But more geared towards women. We went to marketplaces, like Pinterest, that was heavily favored with women. We used similar ads. What we did was we played more towards the gifting market instead of trying to sell directly to them. We were really selling it as a play on a holiday or birthday or some kind of gifting item. All the ads centered, kind of, to turn towards that instead of a direct sell to them.

Felix: Got it. So, the tumbler was a product introduced to sell to the buyer that is also going to be the end user?

Chris: Yes, yes. With that, we did directly target the end user, the women, with all the tumbler ads. But the shaker bottle ads, we would gear more towards gifting if we were targeting the women market.

Felix: Can you give us some examples of that? What would an ad look like or ad campaign look like if it was to target more of a gifting market?

Chris: Yeah. What’s really cool about our website is we’re actually able to personalize each and every bottle. We do laser engrave the bottles, in house. You come on the site, you can put whatever you’d like, a logo, name, a saying, anything like that.

Chris: A lot of the times, in some of the ads that we run, we’ll actually put an engraving on there that is geared towards a birthday or Valentine’s Day. We did “swole mate” ones, I love you more, stuff like that, where we’d actually have it pre-made, pre-designed, on the bottle. Then, we’d shoot out the emails or whatever the marketing was to really gear towards the gifting market.

Felix: Got it. I love that, that you took the step for them to say, “Hey, look. This is presentable as is, as a gift already.” I think that’s, it makes it a lot easier for someone to see why they might want to buy this as a gift.

Felix: Let’s talk about your Shark Tank experience. Tell us first, how did you guys get on the show?

Chris: Absolutely, yeah. It actually all came about 2013. I was still playing ball. I had an email from my agent, at the time, who actually said, “Hey, the producers from Shark Tank are looking for any former players or active players that have a really good idea. A business that they would like to pitch on the show.”

Chris: So, at the time, I loved the show. I watched it all the time. I said, “Hey, man, that’s really cool. I have absolutely nothing. I’m still playing ball. Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to come back to this email and use it.”

Chris: Time went by. I got out of football. Went into my wife’s business. Was doing that. Then, this idea came across my mind. When I started producing it, it was always in the back of my mind that I’m going to get this product on Shark Tank.

Chris: I went back, once we got the product produced. Started selling it a little bit. I immediately went back to my old contacts. I found that email. Emailed them and the guy responds back and said, “They no longer work there.”

Chris: From that, I then had to find who I had to contact. I did. I was able to really streamline the process. I still had to go through all the videos and send them all in and have a product that was actually worth it.

Chris: Hundreds of sheets of paper signed later, and some crazy videos I was making of me, at the gym, ripping my shirt off, all kinds of stuff, and we was told that we had a chance to go on. At that point, it was all about, “Hey, I’m only going to be about six months in but let’s get this sales up as high as I possibly can. So that when I go on the show, it’s somewhat presentable.”

Chris: Really, the goal was, in the first six months, was to get $50000 worth of sales. When I actually walked on the show to pitch, we had $80000 in sales, at the time. Did a pretty good job in the six months of getting sales so that I could go on there and get a decent valuation.

Felix: What did you come into the show wanting? What was the deal you wanted? What did you end up walking away with?

Chris: We went on, when I went on to ask for $100000 for 10%. I was valuing it at a million dollars. It was tough to evaluate the company being six months in, being so early in the game.

Chris: I thought it was a pretty fair valuation, at the time. Really, what I was looking for, I was looking for the exposure and for the help, the marketing help. That’s really what I got out of it.

Felix: Got it. The deal you did with was Mark Cuban, was one of the, I guess, the investors, as well, as … Was there another investor on this deal, too?

Chris: Yes. We ended up getting offers from all five sharks. At the end of the day, came down to Mark Cuban and then, Alex Rodriguez, was a guest on the show. I think it was one of his first episodes, it might have been his first episode. I think it was, actually. He was a guest on the show. They both wanted to come in together. They bumped it up to 15%. I got them down. Actually, I think they wanted 20. I got them down to 15% for 150K. I got the valuation that I was looking for. Lost a little more equity than I was hoping for. At the end of the day, I got two guys that were in the sports market. We now have the NBA, the MLB, and NFL experience behind us. Really gave us huge credibility in the sports world to have both of them on the Ice Shaker team.

Felix: That’s amazing. What’s it like to work with them, these days, when you … how do you … It sounds like you wanted to get on the show for the exposure. But then, also, just have these people to call or these people in your network. Mark Cuban, Alex Rodriguez, in your network. How do you, how does it come to your advantage, now, when you’re running the business?

Chris: Yeah, it’s amazing. Being in Dallas with Mark and his team has been awesome. I’m doing stuff with them a lot because of how close we are. A lot of it comes down to the panels and doing speaking engagements, stuff like that. Networking is absolutely huge.

Chris: Mark has built out a team of multiple people that help. Their main job is just to help all his Shark Tank investments. He has so many now, over the years, over 10 years of Shark Tank, I believe it’s at least 80, probably over 100, different companies that he’s invested in. These people are there, really, just to help. So, if I have any questions, if I need any help with anything, they’re there to help me.

Chris: They brought in GNC early on. They helped walk me through the entire negotiations. Still, to this day, we’re on the phone trying to figure out how we can work better with them. But still reaching out to different retails, using their connections there. Even just connecting me to other companies in their portfolio have been absolutely huge. If I have questions, say, about SEO or marketing or whatever it is, there’s somebody in his portfolio that is really good at it, that’s an absolute expert in it. They’re happy to connect me to them and speak to their CEO or head of marketing or whoever it is, for free. Just out of good faith because we’re under the same portfolio.

Chris: It’s also helped with collaborations and getting giveaways and email blasts with other companies that are in similar market space as me, underneath the Mark Cuban portfolio. That’s been absolutely huge for me. It just keeps on leading to new connections every day.

Chris: With Alex, he’s been, it’s been a lot different role because he doesn’t have that same experience that Mark has. He doesn’t have a team built out for over 100 Shark Tank companies, like Mark does. Alex is completely different. Really good at marketing and helping us get it out there. That way he’s got us into UFC gyms, early on. He has the whole fitness background. True Fusion is another gym that’s really starting to take off that he’s got us into. Always helping with events and stuff like that to promote the product. That’s definitely his strong point.

Felix: Yeah. Any piece of business advice that you got from either of them that was really important for your growth? Things that, maybe, you didn’t realize until you heard it come out of their mouths. Can you think of anything like that?

Chris: Man, we don’t necessarily talk to them, in person, very much. I’m in communication with them through email, for the most part.

Chris: For me, it’s mostly talking to the teams. I mean, these guys are, especially Mark, just insanely busy. For a $75000 investment, to a billionaire, he’s not going to really jump on the phone with me and talk anything out. But, for big decisions, he’s there. We ran into some pricing issues, stuff like that, so I reached out to him and asked him what he thought. Within 15 minutes, he’s replying back to these emails. And it’s him replying back with an honest opinion. It’s not going to be a long, detailed email. It’s going to be really short and sweet. But he is there to help and give his advice. For someone with that much power and authority and that busy, it’s extremely impressive that he’s still within 15 minutes answering to one of his 100 investment companies that he has.

Felix: Yeah. I’ve spoken to another Mark Cuban investment company on the show and they said the same thing, that he will respond to email any time of day, it almost seems. He’ll back to you if it’s an important question for you to reach out to him.

Felix: What about the … What were the results of being on the show, in terms of exposure and traffic or sales to the store? How big of a boost did it give you guys?

Chris: Absolutely, absolutely huge. We keep seeing that. You can’t even measure it because it’s still happening today. Just the initial push, the first two weeks was huge. A lot of people, not even necessarily just the first day, it really spans out to a whole week. A lot of people are recording it. They’re watching it the next day. They’re watching it through Hulu or other channels, that week. Every day I still have people tell me, “Hey, I just saw you on Shark Tank. I just saw it for the first time yesterday, whatever it was.”

Chris: What’s really cool is we did have the update, as well, in November, that highlighted how well we were doing after the first year, after airing. We then got the boost from that, as well. Now, we’re actually starting to get the reruns from CNBC. After the first year, they’ll buy it out. They’ll start rerunning the show, as well. Every time it airs, it’s a huge boost to our website. Sometimes I don’t even know until that day that it actually re-aired and, all of a sudden, our website is just absolutely blowing up.

Chris: That money that came in, in the first two weeks, we sold out on Amazon, actually, within the first 20 minutes. All our [inaudible] was gone. That money that came in the first two weeks, we just kept it and really helped us just absolutely expand the line quick, fast, and efficiently. The money from all the sales, plus the money from the actual investment, went all back in to grow us from being a one bottle product to really a company, now, with over 80 different products to offer.

Felix: Amazing. Let’s talk a little bit about the site, iceshaker.com. One cool thing that I see is, and you mentioned this earlier about how you want to get the photos, give you a good 360 representation of the product. That’s what I see. Right at the very top is a rotating image of the bottle. Talk to us about this. The rest of the design [inaudible 00:45:56], what are some of the conscious decisions that you guys have made to improve the quality and conversion rates, specifically, of the site?

Chris: Yeah. It was tough. Something I really, when I first started, I didn’t realize how important just speed was. The video at the top was a full length video. It’s now been cut down. I think it’s only four panels. It looks like it’s spinning. At first, it was just a full video. It was so slow that I’m sure it was absolutely killing our conversion rate.

Chris: Stuff like that I had to learn early on. We had a company build out our site. I think it ended up being something like five grand. I thought it was pretty cool. The main features on it all worked on desktop but they didn’t work on mobile. At the time, I didn’t think it was a huge deal. I didn’t think that many people bought off their phone. But realized really, really quick that I was probably one of the few that didn’t buy off their phone, at the time. I’m sure that number just keeps getting higher and higher, how many mobile users there are that are just purchasing only on their phone.

Chris: We had to completely redo the website after that. Once we realized that 80 to 90% of our traffic was mobile and our best features are only being shown on desktop. On mobile, they don’t look that great.

Chris: Yeah, it really became a goal of mine to make it the best converting site possible. With that, came speed, design, and really, just trust. I think trust is a huge factor for a website now because people, if they don’t trust it, the first thing they’re going to do is they’re going to run to Amazon where they know they can return the product at any time. They know it’s going to be there in two days or they’re going to get their money back. How are you going to compete with that? The only way to do that is to offer them a better experience on your website.

Chris: We were able to do that in a couple ways. First, the trust factor. Second, we’re able to offer them a different variety of product than we offer on Amazon. We don’t offer our full line on there. And we offer better pricing and we offer free shipping and fast turnaround, as well. We always jack up our pricing on Amazon to really cover for the fact that we’re getting hit by big fees. We also want to protect our website. We always charge a little bit more on Amazon because of that reason.

Chris: Then, with the site, just really how can we get people to trust it? That’s where different apps and review systems come in that have been really helpful for us.

Felix: Can you speak about those? What kind of apps have you added to the site?

Chris: Early on, we went with a review app called Yotpo. They came in and they do a great job. It’s more than just reviews. I mean, there’s going to be, if you go on our site, there’s probably two or three reviews that were left today, alone. We have a carousel right on the front page that’s going to show the latest and best reviews right there on the front page. Normally, on a normal day, we’ll have, that whole entire banner will be filled with 10 reviews that all came in the day of. Absolutely huge for, really, just trust because when you see that, you see 10 reviews that came in that day, you know that people are buying off the site.

Felix: Yeah, I didn’t realize that. I’m looking at it now. I see the carousel button. I didn’t pay too much attention to the date. But there’s a bunch from today, already.

Chris: Yeah. When you see that … When I go on a website, it’s the first thing I look at is, “Hey, is it updated? Is it being run?”

Chris: When you see 10 reviews that came in, in the last day, or that day, you’re like, “Wow, these guys are doing a great job. They’re, obviously, sending the product out. People are enjoying what they’re getting.”

Chris: So, huge, huge trust factor, right off the bat. We try to couple that, too, with, I’m sure you’ll see the shop pops at the bottom of the site. That’s shown in real time when people are buying from our website. Really, what’s cool about that is it’s going to give another, it’s going to be social proof. It’s going to show that people are on the site. People are buying. It’s also going to show them options that they might have missed on the side. If something cool pops up like, say, our protein cookie, our protein coffee, something like that, that really isn’t that well really highlighted on our site, you’re going to say, “Hey, what’s that?”

Chris: They can actually click it, go into it, see what other people are buying. They might end up adding some protein coffee to their cart, as well. That’s another really, really cool app that builds trust and, also, helps builds sales, as well.

Felix: It does.

Chris: Yeah. Some of the other apps that have done really well for us, really helped us convert, are something like the pop up that you’ll see on it. It’s an app that we, it’s actually a free app that we use called Privy. All it is, it’s going to pop up, it’s going to ask for an email address. Early on, in the game, I thought that this was something that I didn’t want to do. I thought that it was spam-y when a pop up would come up. But, if you read into it, research it, by not having that, it’s a huge disadvantage for you. By having that on there, you’re collecting emails. Super, super valuable information that you can go back and send out to customers and really drive them back to the site.

Chris: At the end of the day, it’s over 90% of people that come to your site are not going to buy. So, if you’re not collecting or getting some kind of data from them, you’re just completely missing out on a huge opportunity. We brought in the email sign up early on, before Shark Tank. I’d been able to grow a massive email list because of it. Definitely, highly, highly recommend an email list. You want to, also, incentivize people to join it, as well. With it, just don’t make it a super spam-y emails that go out. Give them some kind of value. Give them something that they actually want. Sales, give them opportunities to maybe buy a product before it’s even released yet. Really give them value out of that list so that they continue to stay on it and they don’t just unsubscribe.

Felix: Awesome. Thank you so much, Chris. Iceshaker.com is the website. What would you say needs to happen in 2019 for you to consider this year a success?

Chris: Man. We’ve already had a great year, so far.

Chris: We have some big things coming. I know we were having conversations with gyms like LifeTime Fitness. That looks like we might end up going into all of them.

Chris: Really, this year, I think it’s more a focus on retail. I think it will help just generate eyeballs, generate just more exposure to our product. It’s something that we really haven’t pushed into because we’re doing so well online. When you do so well online, you push that to the side. You see the high margins. It’s great. It’s awesome. You’re able to control everything. I think you miss out on a lot of exposure and just social proof, as well. Just proof of concept that will get asked all the time, “Hey, what stores are you guys in?”

Chris: A lot of people do like to see the product in hand. Just like we were talking about earlier about actually holding the product, seeing the difference between other products on the market. The product, at this point, it’s such a premium product that when people see it in person, it sells. They’re actually blown away by the quality of the product. Sometimes it’s hard to portray that without having it in their hands. So, really trying to push into retail. That’s kind of the goal for 2019.

Felix: Awesome. Again, thank you so much for your time and coming on to share your experience, Chris.

Chris: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

 

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