You’re listening to Biz Ninja Entrepreneur Radio.
This show was created for entrepreneurs, business owners, marketers and dreamers who want to learn from the experts of today and drastically shortcut their own success to build a business that supports their dream lifestyle. Since 2011, Tyler Jorgensen has been interviewing business thought leaders from around the world, a serial entrepreneur himself. Tyler also shares his personal insights into what’s working in business today.
Tyler Jorgenson 0:33
Welcome to Biz Ninja Entrepreneur Radio, I am your host, Tyler Jorgensen. And today we get to talk with the founder of the IQ Bar at eatIQbar.com, we’ll Nizza and we’re going to talk about the the journey of creating a protein bar, but really just entrepreneurship in this challenging space. So welcome up to the show Will.
Will Nitze 1:02
Thanks for having me.
Tyler Jorgenson 1:04
You have an interesting journey in how you got into the protein bar or the health bar space. Right? You were you were a study we’re studying you’re at an Ivy League school. And and now you sell IQ bars. So tell us a little bit about you know, what made you choose this path?
Will Nitze 1:21
Sure, sure. I definitely didn’t set out to be in the protein bar business. I saw I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I definitely wasn’t, you know, that archetypal kid selling laminated a lemonade stand, like a five year old entrepreneur, that that wasn’t me either. You know, I got to college, I went to college in Boston. And I really didn’t know, I didn’t like any of the classes I was taking until I took a psychology class. And then I just was fascinated with that. And then I got more into the physiological side neuroscience side and was fascinated with that. And so I really fell in love with the brain as just a general topic and wanting to work in that in some capacity, but couldn’t really figure out a way to do that. I also was always really ended startups in business, and entrepreneurship. But I didn’t, I didn’t know where those two were the confluence of those two things was professionally. And so I just sort of by default, took a job in software. All my friends went into banking and consulting and things like that. I knew I didn’t want to do that. But I thought, Well, why don’t I go sell and market software. So I was selling and marketing, this super arcane, esoteric supply chain and op software to oil and gas companies. And I was flying to Houston every week and got really, really good at a lot of things, but was totally not passionate about that. I knew three to six months in, I’m not going to do this for 3040 years. And coincidentally, I also started feeling physically bad I was working long hours, I had a pretty bad diet. So I got really into nutrition as a to counteract that, because I quickly learned nutrition was largely at the root of that issue. And this was when paleo is becoming big and whole 30 was becoming big and cleaning simple labels, all that stuff was taking off, I read one book in particular, that kicked everything off for me, which is called Green brain by David Perlmutter, which is basically the concept is, you know, the standard American diet is terrible for your brain, and everyone’s getting all the timers at crazy rates, and you have all this mental fall on a daily basis. And no one really knows this or thinks too hard about it. But he lays out how terrifically bad this is society and on a micro level. And so that kind of sparked an idea in my head of why isn’t there any ready to eat brain food, quote, unquote, there’s all these pills and powders and tonics and whatnot that’s geared towards brain function. And this was also a new nootropics as a category was taken off, why isn’t there any ready to eat food? And so that was, that was the impetus for it. And I just started tinkering around in my kitchen and here I am, three years later.
Tyler Jorgenson 4:16
Yeah, so I love that you’re like, I wasn’t the archetypal like entrepreneur, like, you know, I was, I was like, the lemonade stand newspaper route, all that stuff, right? You know, you mentioned you didn’t really find a class that was interesting until you took psychology. When was the moment that you realize, like, was it as a kid? Or was it in college? Or was it not until after you were like, done with technology? When was the moment you realize that you were going to be an entrepreneur?
Will Nitze 4:40
I kind of knew I always wanted to start a business and I learned very quickly in my first job that I didn’t like working for other people. I got good at working for other people, but I don’t like working for other people. And so, you know, three months into that I kind of knew I was like, Okay, I need to start something. The question is what When how to get there, basically, but but that, I would say, just out of college when I got a taste for what corporate America was, that was, I had inklings of it earlier. But that was really when it was like, Okay, this is the path, I was able to juxtapose that concept with something in reality, which is why I recommend people not to just go be an entrepreneur, like, go get a job and understand what it is like to work for a boss and a company with a hierarchy like, like see the other side, I think that duality is actually extremely useful.
Tyler Jorgenson 5:37
I think it’s very important to have that perspective before you try to run a company. They understand what it’s like to be an employee in a company. It’s really hard to have empathy as an owner of the, you know, employees plight, right? If you’ve never been there.
Will Nitze 5:53
No, totally. And it’s funny to like, all these things you like or don’t like about your experience. And then like three years later, you’re like recreating that. It’s kind of like how people become their dad or their mom, you almost become your first boss in a way.
Tyler Jorgenson 6:08
And yeah, it’s funny.
Will Nitze 6:10
I’ll catch myself having that happen.
Tyler Jorgenson 6:13
That’s interesting. So when you mentioned it was, I think, 2017, when you started IQ bar, and it was kind of that surge of, of, you know, the intersection of paleo and keto, and all these things kind of coming to a beginning of a peak, right? What made you choose, ready to eat food? And like, once you made that choice? What was the first big obstacle that you had to overcome?
Will Nitze 6:37
Oh, man, it’s not even like, it’s just a it’s just like a litany of obstacles at one time that you’re like, parallel pathing. So it’s, because if you take any one obstacle, you’ll never get there, you have to tackle like, the first, you know, like, handful, they all kind of surround creating a prototype, basically. And you know, the sub sets of activities under that are, where if you’re making a tangible item is what are the inputs? Where do I get the inputs? From what to the inputs costs? in aggregate? What is the unit cost? And what am i selling the unit for? There’s all like, those really like tactical, tangible things. And then there’s the more higher level things of why is anyone buying this thing? You know, what else is out there that is similar or not similar to this thing, like a competitive analysis, market analysis? And then there’s like, all this other logistical stuff, like, how am I going to incorporate a business?
Tyler Jorgenson 7:40
So you just listed like seven of the big hats of starting a company, right? The strategy, the technical, the tactical, the logistical, the legal, all of these different things? Which of these were you the least prepared for? And how, like, how did you prepare for them?
Will Nitze 7:56
I wasn’t prepared for any of them. Eequally, yeah, yeah, I mean, some stuff, you can just figure out on your own and some stuff, you need third party help. So like, obviously, anything legal, you know, want some assistance, but like, you know, prototyping that’s just like iteration after iteration after iteration. But generally speaking, I knew nothing. And so I just sort of in piecemeal took each of these things. So like, the thing one, how do you? How do you manufacture an item, and I would find five people who had done that they’ve manufactured something similar for me. Reach out cold, reach out to them, offer to buy him a cup of coffee, and then ask them 100 questions. And then I would do that across every single new thing. And I talked to five people and everything, you know, what website platform to use? Use Shopify, bigcommerce, you know, WordPress, blah, blah, blah, while everyone seems to be using Shopify, okay, I’m in your shop. But do you incorporate the C Corp or LLC, as one as an LLC, but the other six are c corpse? Here’s why. Okay, super. You can just kind of go down the list…
Tyler Jorgenson 9:08
Like crowdsource your expertise. Yeah, I got everything. Every time I come up to a wall, I’m gonna go five people, go find five people who have overcome that wall, and see where the commonalities lie and how they overcame it and apply the best practices.
Will Nitze 9:21
Yeah. And I think a lot of people underestimate how willing others are to share information, like people like sharing expertise, people like sounding smart, and people like getting advice from total strangers. And so you can just get all this free knowledge just by being an eager person. Yeah. So yeah, I crowdsource everything. The trickier parts are the ones that are truly uniquely your unique identifiers, right? Because you’re not trying to make another widget. So therein lies the most challenging part because you can’t call five of the five other people to five other people haven’t done so. That’s the tricky part is making that uniquely, you know, if you’re Apple making the first iPhone, no one’s really done it. And so it’s like setting up that initial supply chain for something’s no one’s really done. Now, that’s obviously an extreme example. But for me, it would be like creating this thing that’s a clean label, but also has really no sugar, and has x amount of plant protein. Most people are using whey protein at the time. And so there’s just unique challenges I had to get through and for that, it’s, in my experience, it’s just through iteration, honestly.
Tyler Jorgenson 10:37
Yeah. So just just failing forward over and over over to you get to where you want.
Will Nitze 10:43
Tyler Jorgenson 10:44
I love it, man. What? So I think hopefully, people have caught how big of a of a piece of advice that was right? How big of a lesson they learned, like, go in when you hit a wall, go find five people and ask them questions. And because I agree with you, people are more willing to share them. We think it’s funny how we start to idolize or celebrities, certain people in our industries, because to us, they have achieved right, but to them, they’re still just humans. And most of them are willing to have conversations. And if not, you just don’t talk to them anyways. So really, really great advice, hope people are catching, how powerful that is, at once you got the product started. And he has launched originally on Kickstarter. How do you pivot from like, an initial campaign and just starting to build a brand?
Will Nitze 11:33
Yeah. I mean, that one was really just like, do the Kickstarter fulfill the orders. And then it’s like, I think the analogy is like writing a paper like the Sunday before it’s due on a Monday, like, that just is entrepreneurship every day. And so there wasn’t like a this long strat strategic plan of how we’re gonna do this, and then pivot segue smoothly into that into that. It’s kind of like you throw your all into the Kickstarter in the night. Okay, that works. What’s next and figured out really, really quick. So, you know, it ended in arrive, okay, I guess you make a website. And then you tell all the Kickstarter people that liked it to buy on the website, and then you, you know, make some Facebook ads, and you start growing an Instagram audience knew. You just kind of like, so we just kind of like, piecemeal attack that DTC set up and then you know, that set up and then you create an Amazon presence, and then you start putting some money behind Amazon advertising. And you try and get some reviews. And, you know, there’s a, there’s a lot you can find 100 blog posts on how to do all of this. It’s just like, will you just go through the insane amount of hours it takes to set it up? Like, like, I wouldn’t say any of it’s technically that hard. It’s just a lot of work, and like, almost an unending amount of work. And so yeah, I mean, that’s what we did, we just kind of parlayed crowdfunding into DTC and then parlay that into brick and mortar.
Tyler Jorgenson 13:15
Yeah. And I think, you know, you’re I really liked that point, right? The analogy of writing the paper that like the day or the moment the morning before it’s due. And that is entrepreneurship, it’s your what is what are today’s problems? how we’re going to attack them? And you try to get that, that problem horizon out one or two days? Or a week or a month? That’s that the beginning? And you can’t you don’t know what the horizon is gonna look like? You guys have been growing a lot since you started in 2017. You like, like you said, you’re scaling into Amazon direct to consumer and wholesale? I believe you guys recently started taking on capital. What was the was that a hard decision to decide whether or not you’re going to take on institutional money, or you’re going to stay kind of small growth style?
Will Nitze 14:01
I think about this differently than I think most people do. I think, especially with like, every headline is XYZ company raised bazillion dollars. And that’s seen as a win. And for me, I actually viewed that as a loss. Because that headline could have just read, XYZ person just gave away their company. That’s how I view that. So it’s like, to me, it’s, you know, if I could never raise money, I’d never raise money. But you’re always juggling this, these variables of, Okay, how much money can I get for what price? And what is that money going to do for me? And how much faster will I grow? I mean, in some cases, you just need it to survive, like, sure. Will I be alive without this? If the answer’s no, then you’re done.
Tyler Jorgenson 14:54
Will Nitze 14:55
But beyond that, everything’s just sure to incremental and it’s like oh, Okay, you know, you just got to shake out, you know, for me it was, it’s always like, try and get the company as big as possible, while still maintaining control of the business. And so that that means we’re gonna have to raise X amount, and that’ll get us to the next juncture and we’ll have grown this much, then we can justify that value, and then we’ll raise this much. And then we’ll do it over again, it’s, but we did all that through angel investors in the first couple of rounds, and got to a little over 4 million in revenue before we looked at actually taking on institutional money. At which point, you know, at some point there, need enough money, that it’s hard this scrap together people like you know, a bunch of like $400,000 checks, if you are going to write down any checks, and it’s also good to get a really good institutional partner on board. And, conversely, terrifically bad, to get a bad institutional partner on board. So we found a really good one in circle off, or actually they found us out of San Francisco, it’s just sort of part of the progression, I think. It’s, you do it very cognitively and carefully. And then you move on once you do it. And…
Tyler Jorgenson 16:21
So you guys got, you know, you grew to, like you said, 4 million in revenue before you took on institutional capital. What are your guys is, you know, short term or midterm goals? In terms of what are you trying to do now that you’ve got that cash on board? What are your targets?
Will Nitze 16:37
I mean, the goal more broadly, which is somewhat arbitrary, but just kind of a nice round number is to double the business every year, which is what we’ve been able to do. And so the goal this year would be, you know, somewhere between eight and 10 million, and then the next year, you know, between, you know, call it 1617, and 20 million, and so on and so forth. Yeah, that gets harder. As you go, you know, it’s a lot easier to turn a $1 million business into a $2 million business. Um, but that’s kind of the goal. And the goal would be to raise money one more time, you generate enough sales at a good enough gross margin to just create this flywheel effect where we can keep growing overall, another piece of the strategy is rollout, new product lines and new categories to help us get more offerings to the same people that are non cannibalizing, and, and help.
Tyler Jorgenson 17:38
One of the interesting things in in the health food space, and then kind of this protein bar space, I’ve talked to a lot of people over the years in this niche, and you have some that really struggled to understand the value of customer acquisition, they’re like, well, we need to be profitable on the very first transaction. You mean, I see if people go to eat IQbar.com, right, they can get a seven bar sampler for 1499. That’s not going to be a super profitable transaction for the company, I’m assuming, help me understand your guys’s long term vision of how you guys do that? And how can other how other entrepreneurs can realize the value there?
Will Nitze 18:12
Yeah, the classic two metrics are their customer acquisition cost and lifetime value that everyone kind of mentioned. I think, for us, especially in a COVID world, but also just in any world that is digital. First. You want to be able to sample you want to, you want to be able to get in as many hands as possible. You want to create an offering that’s really unintimidating and you want to lower the barrier to entry to your to your brand as much as possible. How do you simulate it, you know, that Costco sampling experience in a digital way?
Tyler Jorgenson 18:50
Will Nitze 18:50
And we’ve actually tried that in a number of different instances. But we’ve even tried it with a three bar sampler where it was like, it was $3.95. And it was we lost like something like 20 cents or something like that. But we were acquiring customers for like, nothing like $1 it was crazy, crazy low, but then we kind of learned that the quality of that customer was not good, because there’s just a bunch of people that will buy anything for $3.95. Like, you know, buy a you know, Mickey Mouse pen for for that amount just just cuz it’s like such a throwaway number. And so there’s a sweet spot we’ve found where he wants it when you want to do enough of an investment where I’m not just gonna throw that cash away on anything. I have to want the thing but it’s also a really unintimidating number. And so for whatever reason for us that’s, you know, in that range, but yeah, I mean, your business will not work if your lifetime value doesn’t exceed your customer acquisition costs. I think also just gross margin is you live and die by gross margin. I mean that that is the name of the game. If you look at every major problem that happens in CPG, to the majority stemmed from an not good, gross margin.
Tyler Jorgenson 20:08
You know, it’s interesting, I talked to people who were really they weren’t, they understood, hey, we’re going to invest in, we’re going to go to trade shows, and we’re going to spend a ton of money doing samples. But then when they transition to digital, they struggled with everything that you just talked about the idea of samples, get that first acquisition, you know, find the sweet spot of where they are. And so it’s, it’s really refreshing, candidly, to see that you guys not only understood that, but are implementing and testing and working with it, it’s really hard to grow digital, if you can’t, like you said, simulate that similar engagement opportunity, and scale up and retain clients for longer lifetime value. What… Any advice to other either people in the CPG space, or people looking to get started on how to maximize lifetime value.
Will Nitze 20:08
Um, I would say, number one, target people that will come back, you know, again, there’s like a quality of consumer, not not generally, but as it relates to your offering, some people are bought by Cheetos, and they’ve been buying Cheetos, and you know, for the last 10 years, because that’s a really high quality customer for that brand. So like, find that for like for us, for instance, people on the ketogenic diet, for example, anything that’s dietary, and is highly habitual, that’s a just good quality person to target the right people, and then treat them well, you know, keep keep keep keep them Top of Mind, don’t annoy them, give them offers at the right times, but not too much. communicate with them and build the best friends build a cult like, you know, audience that they’re always engaging with, and are just really high quality. Folks, I think even you can even step back and just look at the quality of your offering, do you have a sticky offering. And generally speaking, the more habitual and sticky you’re offering, the better any demographic will be on the lifetime value. basis. So you know, this is why, you know, Starbucks is worth so much it, the highly habitual people do get it every morning. And they’ve done that forever. So to some degree is the product, great products that are like that, and to another large degree, it’s targeting and nurturing the right people.
Tyler Jorgenson 22:31
Absolutely. So what is your favorite way, like that your that your company IQ bar, keeps in contact and builds that community and nurtures that audience.
Will Nitze 22:41
This is something we can always do better at. But I think part of it’s like, meet people where they are like, I think SMS is really interesting. We all get a zillion emails a day. And SMS is kind of a new frontier a way to engage with people. I think creating the classic, you know, content marketing, quote, unquote, is still holds true. It’s sort of a empty phrase, or the phrase is only as good as how good the content is, or of course, nothing unless, you know, again, know your audience, and what do they want? What do they like reading? Or did they like comedy? You know? Did they like seriousness? They like getting an email every day? Or do they like any search surveys? can be really useful? Yeah, and we could do more of this? Do you like getting emails at this cadence or not? The which of these sections? Do you like? You don’t like that section? Great. We’ll be won’t include that. So but polling panel, like, yeah, we started the conversation of asking experts, ask your customers, and also ask them about the product itself. Right? Um, when do you eat the product? When you know, do you wish the product had more salt? Or less salt? Now, like, random examples? But yeah, it’s…
Tyler Jorgenson 24:01
Yeah, but it’s keeping that communication going. So to me, like will, it’s really important. Whenever someone puts all this energy into building a business, it’s about building a lifestyle, right? That they actually want to have, right? Part of the reason you did this is you didn’t want to be an employee for someone. What is something on your personal bucket list that you are going to accomplish in the next 12 months?
Will Nitze 24:23
Tyler Jorgenson 24:24
Non-professional, outside of IQ bar.
Will Nitze 24:26
Oh, well, I’m getting married in a few months. So that’s…
Tyler Jorgenson 24:30
Yeah, let’s keep that on the goals list.
Will Nitze 24:31
Tyler Jorgenson 24:32
That’s a good one. Congrats. That’s a big one.
Will Nitze 24:35
I mean, I would say reengaging with good friends, I think what, what the whole mental health and stress level and all of that is so high for entrepreneurs, no matter what, but then when you compound that with a pandemic, and being inside constantly, and having no demarcation between the work day and again, Are you not commuting it’s just all blends together that takes a toll has taken a toll on me I think a lot of other people so I think carving out time to reengage with people who you haven’t none of us have seen anyone in a year you know so and actually going and physically seeing people I would say that’s a big one for me.
Tyler Jorgenson 25:22
Really, really good goal after the honeymoon awesome Hey will really great getting to know you get to learn more about each IQ bar calm, guys go check out the brand there check them out there on socials at is it IQ bar eat IQ bar go check them out there. And wherever you’re tuning in, wherever you’re listening, my business just is your turn to go out and do something.
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