Genius Juices has had a lot of success in the past year or two, but we’d like to hear about where it all started. How did the business come together?
Alex Bayer: I started Genius Juice in 2014. Before that, I was an insurance agent for 7 years. I used to make myself a smoothie every morning, and it came to a point when I felt like there could be something better on the shelf. There were a lot of high-sugar juices and smoothies on the market, but there was no smoothie that could be considered really filling and satiating. I found myself in a place where a lot of entrepreneurs hatch their ideas, by thinking that they can do something better. Not to reinvent the wheel. Just make it better and faster. That led me to creating Genius Juice, which reinvents smoothies by offering a better-for-you plant-based cleaner-ingredient version.
I officially discovered the idea for Genius Juice at a friend’s house. My friend, who’s a vegan chef, cracked open a coconut, scooped out the meat and the filter, and blended it. After tasting it, I thought: this is genius. The combination of coconut water and coconut meat blended together was just an amazing mix of ingredients. It was simple and really tasty. After about 4 or 5 months of research and development and raising money to launch it, I released the product in mid 2014.
The mission statement then still stands true to this day. Genius Juice is about combining great nutrition and a tasty recipe, with ingredients that are 100% organic, with no added fillers or junk. And, more importantly, it tastes really good. That’s how we created Genius Juice, and that’s the story that inspires us everyday.
Could you describe the tastes and flavors of Genius Juice?
Alex Bayer: There are a lot of coconut waters in the market, but they don’t really taste great.Tthey don’t have the nice, fresh coconut taste to it, because they were processed too long. We wanted to get as close as we could to that experience. The biggest differentiator is we’re including the coconut meat. Most products were excluding half of the coconut, which in our product provides the nutrition. That includes the protein, fiber, and MCTs, good fats. Texture wise, it’s thicker than milk, that’s for sure. It has a nice creamy texture, which comes from blending in the coconut meat. It’s why we call it a whole coconut smoothie. It could be a full meal in a bottle, and we have it in three flavors: the original all-coconut flavor, vanilla cinnamon, and mocha.
In your interview with Douglas Yu, you talked about the early years being a constant work in progress. You experienced changes in formulation and packaging. Over the years, what decisions did you take that you think really added to or lead to the current strengths of the company?
Alex Bayer: I think one big decision we made is we really ‘over-SKUd’ the selection in what we wanted to offer the market. I’m a bigger fan now of “simpler is better, less is more, keep it simple”, but back then, we started with 7 different flavors. It proved to be too many. A lot of entrepreneurs make that mistake when they try to launch with too many options.
We eventually decided to cut almost all of our flavors down to two. We planned to steadily come out with more flavors, but also to ensure that these flavors are strategic and will guarantee a better chance of success for the company. I think that was a huge repositioning by us. We kept it simple, focused on “less is more”, and drove the volume of each individual flavor. And that led to a huge success for us. Having less flavors made it so that we didn’t have to discontinue anything, remove some. We just kept on growing, slowly but surely.
The other one is forming a really strong partnership with manufacturers in Thailand who could source extract the coconuts for us. It really helped with strengthening our supplychain. We could get coconut any time year-round and we don’t have to worry about seasonality as much. Setting up a great supply chain, from ordering the raw product to the coconuts coming here, to bottling the product, to having the right offering in the market with the right flavors, and focusing on our core strengths, really helped us to succeed.
For our readers who don’t know, you featured on Shark Tank earlier this year. Talk about how that opportunity happened and how it helped you.
Alex Bayer: I had to audition four times until I got accepted. We shot the show in mid 2019s. It was a great experience. We got a deal on the show, but it eventually fell through. In the end, we still got to go on air. And from that, we received a lot of exposure and marketing opportunities from being on the show. It was definitely very nerve-wracking, but fun. Once I was on the show and in front of the sharks, I learned how to pitch even better.
And I thought it went really great, especially because the product really shined through. People wanted to order it and try it. We had prepared ourselves to meet the demand, preparing our websites and our Amazon page, and partnering up with a fulfillment center called Perishable Shipping Solutions. We expected a thousand orders, but we got four times that. So, that was our Shark Tank experience. It has re-aired a second time in March and aired a third time in August. Every time it did, we got a boost in sales.
You mentioned in other interviews that the deal you got fell through. After that, you decided to leverage your exposure on the show by turning to WeFunder. Can you talk about what went into that decision making?
Alex Bayer: We thought, since we did not get the capital we needed on Sharks, how else can we efficiently raise it? The way we thought about it was to figure out the easiest and fastest way to raise capital, and also market our product at the same time, and turn our investors into customers, or investomers, as we’d like to call them.When we went on WeFunder, we weren’t expecting to raise half a million, but we did. We were able to reach more people more quickly, and it allowed pretty much anyone to invest and become a shareholder of Genius Juice.
In the end, it proved to be really strategic. When someone invests in our brand online, we get their email, we get to market to them, and we could get them to buy the product. There’s a likelihood they would since it’s a product that they already like, it’s one they’ve invested in. Obviously, the decision worked out really well. Now we have 802 investors that not only invested online but they’re also customers that support the product in every way that matters.
Have you always been open to the strategic opportunities in digital platforms like WeFunder, Amazon, and other such applications?
Alex Bayer: As far as raising money is concerned, not really. I mean, we raised 20,000 on Kickstarter back in 2015, but never anything at this level. We raised nearly half a million on WeFunder, and we’re still raising more. Of course, we owe some of it to Shark Tank, in that we were really confident that we would get a lot more eyeballs on our brand and our product, enough for them to come and invest. We went into this for the first time, confident that we would do well, and we did.
When it comes to investing in online sales channels, just to give you a picture: last year our online sales were almost non-existent. It was really a big push that we decided to make late last year and early this year. One big factor was our appearance on Shark Tank. We aired to 3 million people on January 19th, and that has contributed directly to the growth of our online business. We did a quarter of a million in online sales within a week and a half after airing on Shark Tank. That definitely boosted our online sales and springboarded us into strong online sales throughout this entire year.
Many of the other companies we’ve spoken to describe a lot of disruptions in their supply chains. Did you experience any serious disruptions yourself?
Alex Bayer: You can only control things so much. There are a lot of outside factors that affect many companies, sometimes for better or for worse.
For us at Genius Juice specifically, despite COVID-19, we were fortunately able to continue to grow. Our sales more than tripled, year over year, from 2019 to 2020. We were able to launch in an additional 1,500 locations this year. We were able to come out with one new flavor, the vanilla cinnamon coconut smoothie, which we are very proud of. And like I mentioned, we’re in the middle of a capital round now and it’s going very well.
I think part of that growth is because the demand for better, healthier-for-you products has only increased since COVID-19 hit. People are becoming more and more educated about what is good and what is not good to put inside their bodies. Because our product is obviously very healthy and organic and plant-based, people are gravitating towards it. Retailers who bring in our products also want to continue putting Genius Juice on their shelves because of its health profile. So, it’s even more in demand now than it was before, due to the pandemic. Overall, COVID-19 has actually benefited us in a weird way.
Our online sales have also increased significantly, because more people are buying products online. Our Amazon sales, and the sales on our website, on Insta-Cart, and on Prime Now have all sky-rocketed. We’ve benefitted and we’re grateful that more and more people are looking for products that are healthier like ours. We’re in a good place and we’re very happy about that.
You also told Douglas Yu that when it comes to shelves, you’re extremely selective about retail partnerships. Do you have a criteria for selection?
Alex Bayer: The number one criteria is that they see the value in our product and they want to form a true partnership. Not just buying the product from us, but by strategizing with us on the right marketing promotions for the product in order to make sure that that partnership is successful. Also, we want to pick the right stores where we know the product will actually sell.
We don’t want to just go anywhere and devalue the brand. We want to pick the right retail partners that do a great job in promoting our product so that people buy it. Keeping in mind, of course, that being in their stores also means that we’re reaching the right demographic, the right customers that understand the value of what we offer and buy it. We carry a premium product that retails between 3.99 and 5.99. So, it’s incredibly important for us to get in with the right retailers.
Some of the companies we’ve talked to have spoken about the challenge of trying to keep their organizational structure and company culture in one piece during the pandemic. Are these things important for you, too?
Alex Bayer: We have 12 people on our team. They range from marketing to sales to merchandising. Overall, I think we’ve built a smart model combining different organizational strategies. We have outsourced some parts of our firm, particularly the finance team. We outsource our production, too. In the very beginning, we figured we didn’t want to tie up money in our own factory. We wanted to conserve that money for sales. Essentially, what capital we save from having outsourced the freight, the production and co-packing, and our finance department, we drive into sales growth, marketing and supporting the product in our stores. That’s been our structure and strategy so far. It has really worked well to help us conserve capital and drive growth as a company.
As for the company culture, our team has always worked from home. Before the pandemic, we had a small office where we would have team meetings. We wanted to keep overhead low and really conserve capital for growth. Everyone was already virtual and remote. Nothing really changed there. If anything, things improved because it allowed our employees to have more time at home, more time with their loved ones, more flexibility, and more time taking care of themselves. They have more freedom. They’re happier, and when they’re happier, they’re’ always gonna love working with us even more and staying more productive on top of all that. I think our company culture has only strengthened and grown.
But the real key is that we all like each other. You all have to like each other to work well together. We’re all very tight knit, which has been hugely beneficial for Genius Juice. Besides that, we all have a common goal, which is to grow the brand and grow the company. We’re all excited that we’ve had some major growth this year and we’re projected to break 10 million in revenue next year. That kind of growth comes from having a very good and dedicated team that works incredibly hard and gives it their all every single day. We’re proud of what we’ve done so far and we’re excited for the future.
Is there any advice you’d give other people who are just starting out in the industry? The beverage industry is highly competitive, but there have been a lot of opportunities given the disruption this year. Is there any wisdom you’d impart to them?
Alex Bayer: Like you said, it is a very competitive and very saturated industry. The number one thing is to offer a product that is differentiated. A product that is unique that is going to serve a need that is currently out there in the market. Besides Genius Juice, another key example of a well-differentiated product is Vive Organic’s wellness shots. The founders, who are my friends, created this product to serve a need for a wellness shot that combined the health benefits of turmeric and ginger to help people feel better. It is convenient and packs all that necessary nutrition in a small bottle.
Likewise, Genius Juice is something that hasn’t been done before and it fills a need. It’s unique and differentiated, and something that people understand and would actually buy. Your product has to fulfill an existing need, people should be able to understand it, and it has to be affordable. As long as you have those three things in place, you’re off to the races.
Having the right team on board to support the product is really key to helping the brand grow. Having enough capital to where you can get something off the ground, producing the product, marketing it, and hiring the right people to build the brand – you’re going to need a combination of these things. Those are the things that I would say are critical to building a good brand.
If you could do it all over again, would you do anything differently? What would that be?
Alex Bayer: We’re in a much better place today. But if I had to do something differently, I would probably make sure our margins are strong from the very beginning. Because if you’re sustainable from the start, you don’t have to raise as much money. You can be profitable sooner. In that way, you don’t have to continue to raise money over and over and over again. We’re in a place now that I can say we are becoming sustainable. We are predicting that we’re going to be profitable by next year, but it really took a while to get there.
If I had to do it differently, I would have really worked on becoming more profitable, more sustainable, and having better margins much earlier. A lot of investors now are not investing in brands that just have a lot of revenue. I mean, it’s a key thing. But now it’s just as important as being sustainable, having great margins, and becoming profitable. Those are the things that we’re working on right now, and we’re looking to achieve in 2021.
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