It’s no surprise that the inspiration for Kiss My Keto was sparked inside the epicenter of All Things Health: The Venice Beach Whole Foods.
While roaming the aisles, co-founders Alex Bird and Michael Herscu realized that none of the available products met the maximum nutrient ratios needed for the Keto diet. For Alex and Michael, the Keto lifestyle was personal - both had experienced cancer in their families and were committed to a conscious and preventative diet plan that could help protect them as they got older.
Then and there, Kiss My Keto was started. Today, not only are they selling the products that the existing health market lacked, they’re promoting that Keto life to hundreds of thousands of visitors through their (free) Keto Academy and their playful, informative video content.
I recently chatted with Alex about Kiss My Keto’s tremendous growth, his go-to Shopify app, and how his background in construction defined his approach to scaling the business.
I’m looking at SEMrush and looks like right around June, you hit a hockey stick-level growth. What was the catalyst that drove the growth?
We spent the first four months basically just experimenting and trying to understand the customer. We wanted to give people value outside of selling them a product. So we invested a lot of time, energy and money in creating a beautiful website and building a studio in our office so we could film content. Video's been really big for us, and really, having someone pick up the phone anytime someone calls. So, I coached a number of people at the beginning - customers who needed help - and we continue to do that today.
It was really important that we be transparent and authentic to the people who were buying from us and trying to learn.
Going into your first holiday season, what are the things that you're doing now to be able to prepare for this influx of online shopping?
Well the interesting thing for us is that we run a different trajectory than a lot of other products. I mean, January's obviously a huge month for us because people are trying to get back into shape. I think what we're trying to do is prepare people for the hiccups in life. So we're building a lot of content around how people can really understand good choices they can make.
How has scaling been for you? You guys have products that have an expiration date as well. How's that been going, and what tips do you have for others that are about to go through the same thing?
I come from a real estate and construction background, so I wanted to own my entire supply chain. It was harder, much harder, but I didn't want to go to a contract manufacturer because having worked in construction, I know how people can cut corners.
I wanted to understand everything in the supply chain from owning the ingredients, all the way to contract manufacturing, because whenever we put a product out, we have a commitment to our customer that if they're not happy with it, we'll take it back and refund their money. No questions asked.
So for us, putting out a crap product or putting out a product that doesn't meet the Keto criteria is totally counter-intuitive. Being able to scale a supply chain, from that regard, was hard because we had to build up credit. Now when I call my suppliers, they know me by name because I push them so hard and I always made my commitments. I have a much better relationship with them now, and that's helping me scale the company to the future.
What are the other areas where you've had to scale by getting help?
One thing that Michael is exceptionally good at is finding good talent, and we've done that on UpWork. So when we started, we couldn't afford to have full-time people, so we found graphic designers and translators for when we were sourcing ingredients from abroad.
We used a lot of those things to help us get off the ground and now we're bigger. We just made our fourth hire, so there are six of us total. Now we're in a stage that we're big enough that we could make a full-time hire if we wanted, but we continued to have that start-up mentality.
We’ll probably make hires when we have a 60-70% need for that role, because we have an idea on growth. So we ramp up to it and it gives that higher chance to really understand the culture and we can spend a bit more time with them, rather than just getting sucked into the work right then and there.
What were your first hires?
My first hire was an Amazon specialist, because that was a lot of our business, and then second hire was customer service and fulfillment, because we decided to take that in in-house at the beginning. Then, graphic design and now, social.
What do you want Kiss My Keto to be known as from a customer perspective, in terms of, how they perceive your support, your warranties, your guaranties and your relationship, in general?
Really I want people to know that we're human, so we're not perfect. That means we're going to make mistakes, but we'll do everything in our power to make it right.
What were the things that you looked for in that first hire? It's little interesting, but not uncommon, that you had Customer Service and Fulfillment as a dual role. Almost everybody that we talked to, that's the way that they do that when they start out.
It’s important to be an authentic company and build a brand rather than just sell a commodity. Anyone can put a listing up on Amazon and get to a trend. It's important for us that whoever's fulfilling a Keto protein, for example, that they understand what that means to that customer, and when someone calls and asks, "Hey, how do I use this product?"
When it goes into the box that same person, who's shipping it, is actually engaging with that person, and can have a relationship with them. So if they want to call back, they get a real person and they're like, "Aww, thanks for sending that I really appreciate it." That's, for us, what creates a real sense of trust with the customer.
As companies grow, part of what we've seen is when the customer service person doesn't take ownership, because it's a different person or a different team that dropped the ball. It negatively impacts the customer relationship. What I love about what you said is, it encourages that person to be the full owner, fully accountable to serving that customer, regardless of who else is involved, along the way, in the process.
Mate, 100%. I'll be honest with you, we are not a “profit first” company. Our goal is to spread Keto as far, as wide and possible with education and quality product, so that people can live the lifestyle and get America healthy again. That's the goal. We don't always make decisions based on how it's going affect the bottom line.
I used to work in real estate and finance. I moved to America from London to do something where every day when I get up I get to do something I’m passionate about and feel like I'm making a difference, however big or small it is. Sometimes I get on the phone with customer and talk them through how to do the diet.
At any time, I'm coaching between 10 and 20 people, you know, friends, family on how to do Keto. So the customer service stems from: how would we want to be treated when we're doing the diet? How would we feel?
That's the big reason why people do things with the way they are now. People don't want to buy from big faceless companies anymore.
I'm looking at the Keto Academy, right now, and I think that's a perfect example of what you’re talking about. Many other e-commerce stores don't prioritize spending the time on a three-hour piece of content to add value first, and if somebody decides to make a buying decision, that that's almost secondary.
We don't charge people for the education, we think that should be free. We think that if you can figure out the diet you don't need any supplements. You can do it with all natural food. It's just we live in the real world and things get hard and people cheat, and people want that quick fix.
What advice would you have for the entrepreneurs that have a Shopify store and a killer product but struggle to get their first 1-100 customers?
If they've got to the point where they've actually opened the store, they're 99% of the way there. Most people don't even start. That's the truth.
It’s really important to have those experiences that bring humility to you every day, because it's very easy for us to get caught up with our ego and to say, "I'm the CEO of this company. I don't have time to speak to a customer." Well, remember, the customer is the only reason that you're there. If a customer goes away, there's no reason for you to be there anymore.
I'm not saying that I should be answering customer service questions all day, but part of it is giving back. Reach out to people, validate your product, make sure that people want it. Before we started Kiss My Keto, I failed in a lot of different areas.
So tactically, when you guys got the website started, did you build it yourself? Did you use templates? Did you pay for a template? Did you partner with an agency? How did that work?
Well, we were very, very lean to start with. We used a Shopify store, we bought a theme. I think it was a couple hundred dollars, and then we did some very, very light customization. I coded the site and did the Shopify myself, and taught myself how to do that and spent 40, 60 hours doing it because I thought it was important to understand how it worked. Part of my role is to always understand the nuts and bolts of everything.
I don't need to be doing it, but I need a fundamental understanding, so when I ask someone to do something for me, whether it's a contractor or it's an employee, I know how to do it. So if they come back to me and they've said this is not possible, I will be able to tell them why that's not right.
In your opinion, what’s a must-download app for people launching a Shopify store?
ReCharge is really important because once someone likes your product, the subscribe and save is a great way for people to be on auto-pilot, and you see Amazon instigating that.
I like the apps that really help you understand the customer. So Hotjar is a good one because you can actually see the customer journey on the website.
For me, I think that the conversation around conversion on a website is really important. So if you started something, and the product's been validated and everyone loves it, but you're not selling on the website. So like, think about Amazon versus Shopify. When people go to Amazon, they're searching with intent, they feel comfortable with their credit card.
It's a whole process that seems, so, so simple doing it themselves, and I've never had an eCommerce store before this business, and I came to learn that there are many, many small things to do on the store to help build that trust.
It's the same in life, it's the same in dating. Don't try and hit a home-run when you step up to the plate. Get on base, move to second, move to third and eventually you'll score a run. If you try and do everything all at once, you'll end up having a lot more problems in the end or you'll get called out.
Yes, one step at a time. A lot of people, when they start up stores, they think you get the store, somebody comes, they convert. But it's all about just getting them through that funnel one step at a time.
Yes. Again, it’s kind of symptomatic of our society and it's very much in my opinion to just be patient, enjoy the journey. There's this mindset, sometimes where, "If I do this and get this, then I will be satisfied," but the human condition is that we're never going to be satisfied because we have egos, and so if we can just focus on that one thing, and get that right, and say, "Okay. That's great, let get that right. Now let's move on to the next thing."
And really, just take our time doing it... maybe you’re trying 10, 15 different things at any one time. For me that's fine, but if your expectation is constantly on the result, like, "I want to make this sale. I want to make this sale." That might not be the pathway to success. It might be that. Number one, "Am I getting traffic to the website? Okay. Are people interested in it? Okay. Can I give them some value before they buy?"
All these touch points along the way, and then one day, you have a successful store and everyone says, "oh my goodness, I can't believe how good it is," but it's because you build it methodically and you treat people with respect, and you give people value along the way.
Yes, absolutely. You guys have done a great job with, 'Our Story' page. A lot of websites launch without an 'Our Story' page and people who see that page, just significantly lower bounce rates, and they view significantly more pages after they've been exposed to that.
Yes, and I have to give credit to my co-founder, Michael. A lot of that was his idea. He was always about building the brand, he was always about spending money on the content and about making us authentic and vulnerable for people to trust. As it happens, he's a little more shy, when it comes to speaking and being out in the public eye, but it was his fundamental belief that these are all things that people want to see and that generates trust for people
Thank you, Alex! Don't spill the Collagen Peptides!