Today, Website Closers’ Alex Matos joins host Izach Porter to talk with the co-founder of Rari Nutrtion, Sean Kelly about his exit in the super competitive supplement space.
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This episode of Deal Closers is hosted by Izach Porter, brought to you by WebsiteClosers.com, and is produced by Earfluence.
Sean – 00:00:05:
You know, every dollar you can bring to the bottom line is another four times or five times or six times, that dollar that you can earn at the exit. You could spend two years on perfecting the perfect product, perfect business model, what you think is the perfect product and business model. Go to market and learn that somebody’s already beat you to market a year ago, and the customers don’t like anything about, what you have to offer.
Izach – 00:00:40:
You’re listening to the Deal Closers Podcast brought to you by websiteclosers.com, a show about how to build your e-commerce business to be profitable, scalable, and one day even sellable. I’m Izach Porter. And on the show today, Website Closers, Alex Matos joins me to talk with co-founder of Rari Nutrition, Sean Kelly, about his exit in the super competitive supplement space. At Website Closers we’ve brokered several deals and supplements, including one you heard about on this podcast a few months back. It always amazes me how these companies have been able to carve out a niche for themselves in this $150 billion industry, when it feels like every parcel of the supplement space has already been taken. But for Rari Nutrition back in 2015, Sean and his co-founder, Chris Bosco, had always been into fitness and involved in the industry and they noticed something about supplements.
Sean – 00:01:40:
We’re very health conscious people. I feel like more and more so the supplement space is getting away from, the very thing they intend to do. It’s supposed to be, you know, aid in your health and wellness journey, whereas you have a lot of synthetic ingredients, artificial dyes, colors, flavorings, sweeteners that… may or may not have studies behind them that have different outcomes. So I think… If I have the choice to pick a natural product versus a natural product, otherwise the exact same ingredient panel, otherwise, I’m going to go to the natural product 10 out of 10 times.
Izach – 00:02:21:
So they came up with a couple things, like the name Rari, which sounds like Ferrari, which made it sound like a premium brand. And Rari also stands for Rise Above with Real Ingredients. And they came up with their first product, the Infinity Pre-Workout Performance Supplement in Strawberry Lemonade, which is my personal favorite.
Sean – 00:02:42:
That was us just trial and error. You know, we knew like, you know, L-Citrulline, Malate and… Beta-alanine and what the effects of those were. And I think it was just a matter of just putting them together and finding out, what worked for us the best. And so we found a formula that worked what we thought was better than anything else that we’ve ever tried. And it was. And so that’s kind of how we started, with the Infinity Formula. And from there, we got it in the hands of a manufacturer, kind of did some R&D on it, and they tweaked the flavoring, and stuff like that, so it actually was palatable too.
Izach – 00:03:19:
Yep. Okay, so you do your research, you kind of make the formula, you get a manufacturer. I’m sure you get, you work through packaging and, and, you know, coming up with the logo and all that stuff. Now you’ve got this product and you’re… going to start to sell and distribute it. How do you get a foothold in the market? Like what was, and I guess this would have been in 2015, 2016 timeframe. So like, what was that first inventory order process like for you? And how did you start to, you know, get a name for the brand and start to scale the sales? What were like the first things you remember doing back in that time? Yeah.
Sean – 00:03:59:
So we had, and we launched, so our first product was Infinity, but we launched a creatine capsule right after that, you know, within a month and I will say that order with the very first order of creatine was… a complete failure. We had a brand new manufacturer do it that we didn’t really check up on, didn’t you know, do our, our own research on and they kind of, there was a huge defect in the product that it was unsellable. And so we contacted them. It was a capsule. So the capsules would all, clump together. It was it would you know when like gummy bears get heated and they all clump together was like that with capsules and so. It was just unsellable at that point.
Izach – 00:04:47:
How much money did you have tied up in that order? Do you remember?
Sean – 00:04:49:
I mean, I think that it was early on and it was relatively small, but I think it was like $15,000 maybe. Yeah. You know, now wouldn’t be a huge deal for us, but getting started, you know, with limited capital, limited resources is like, it’s a huge issue. Yeah. And so that, you know, that’s, that hurt us, but. Long story short, we kind of pivoted around that, got away from the creatine capsules at the end of the day. And that manufacturer went out of business or whatever they did, never heard from them again. Yeah, that was kind of… One of the major issues that we saw when the guys started was manufacturing, making sure that our manufacturer was legit. We went into this whole process not knowing anything about manufacturing, contract manufacturing, packaging, so it was kind of like a trial and error period for us. And so there was, you know, we learned a lot to say the least.
Izach – 00:05:52:
What does the process look like for you now when you’re vetting out a new manufacturer for some of your new projects that you’re working on?
Sean – 00:06:00:
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s, you know, for us, number one, it’s you want to make sure they’re registered, like in their GMP compliant. I think that’s the biggest one. And that will give you COA’s with each product lot so that whether it be a retailer or Amazon, you have those to verify whenever they ask for them as well, and making sure they’re doing third party testing, you know, in the incoming raw materials and, you know, the finished product as well, to identify any, you know, heavy metals or salmonella or E. Coli or anything, remotely, that could could harm people. So those are the biggest things, you know, especially being consumable. It’s you got to pay attention to that. And we didn’t know what even GP compliant was or what third party testing looked like. So it was kind of everything A to Z, we had to learn from that. So… Yeah, so that $15,000 order or so, I think was… was a hit on that creatine that we took. So that was early on. From there, we got our products on Amazon. And that’s really where we penetrated the market is Amazon. That’s just what worked for us. We tried the brand ambassador affiliate way. It didn’t really take off like we thought it would. That’s when we went into Amazon and kind of found our footing. It just was, again, a learning experience with Amazon in terms of, getting Reviews, how the sales algorithm worked and all of that good stuff. Ultimately, it worked out for us and later on brought on retailers in our direction.
Izach – 00:07:45:
Was there ever like a pivotal moment you thought, okay, this is working, this is going to work? Like, do you have a memory of kind of that definitive moment where you had confidence that the business was gonna take off?
Sean – 00:07:58:
I wouldn’t say there was like one moment, but it’s, you know, as you see the business expand and scale, you get more and more confident, I think, on, what you’re doing and double down, on what’s working and then breaking away from what’s not working. That’s really all it is, I think. And sometimes you look back and you’re like, yeah, that’s… you know, we’re nowhere near, the stress, anxiety, and the issues we used to have when we first started. So that’s amazing to kind of… think about and… hindsight, it’s always, you know, 2020. So I think, you know, looking back at those issues now, from my point of view is our life, very… amateur mistakes that would never happen again. But it’s. It’s important to learn from those mistakes. And that’s, you can dive into whether it be a business like this or any other business venture you want to get into, I think, you know, if you have the right mindset, you can, you can do it. It’s just a matter of if you’re, if you’re that type of person, I can learn from your mistakes. And so,
Izach – 00:09:05:
Did you have a mentor in the space or did you guys have anybody to go and ask for direction? Or were you really just figuring it out all on your own?
Sean – 00:09:15:
We were figuring out pretty much all on our own. I mean, we had in terms of like the business and like our product manufacturing, everything like that. We did have, I would kind of call them mentors in the Amazon space that helped us kind of get our footing there. We later bought them out, but they had a tremendous effect on our business in terms of, the scale that brought to Amazon early on, I would say.
Izach – 00:09:43:
Now you were also pretty early in the business got into some retail channels as well. Can you kind of talk about that and how that? how that went, and maybe what the positives and negatives were.
Sean – 00:09:56:
With that. I would, yeah, Amazon kind of helped us, validate our brand to these retailers. They could see that we were one of the number one brands for the natural supplement niche. We can kind of bring that information data to them and analytics and kind of present it to them, be like, you know, we’re interested in partnering with whatever it is, Vitamin Shop or walmart.com. And those are some of the retailers we got in. We’re vitaminshop.com, walmart.com. CVS, I think mostly on the Eastern Seaboard. Swanson Vitamins, a few others like that. And you know, there’s less margin in that. But those stores alone also give your brand awareness. Even if we could break even on that, it helps, get our brand into new customers’ hands. We looked at it that way. And, you know, granted, we did make money on those channels. It just wasn’t a huge focus for us because of how well Amazon was scaling, Fasset was scaling, the margins that we had on it. And so. The issue that we saw going into retail was… We would sell to Vitamin Shop, walmart.com, CVS, and a few of these stores, and some smaller distributors as well. Mostly the distributors would be the ones that we didn’t know who they were selling to. People would… we’d find it would just be competing with ourselves on Amazon if we had other retailers listing their products on our Amazon. So that was the biggest issue that we… faced and we eventually came up with the Amazon restriction agreement that everybody had to sign if they wanted to do business with us. It helped, but also, you know, it… Some people just… I guess don’t want to abide by that. They want to kind of undercut you or, whatever it is.
Izach – 00:12:02:
So you were distributing. Rari products and then people were listing them on Amazon under your listings as another seller.
Sean – 00:12:11:
Exactly, yep. And that went on and off. We’d have to send them cease and desist or contact them to remove them or stop selling to them altogether. And that’s kind of the only workaround there. There’s some other methods now that you can use, but that’s the route we took.
Izach – 00:12:32:
Yeah, because that would have been maybe pre brand registry on Amazon. Yeah, you can control that better, right?
Sean – 00:12:41:
Yeah, it’s much easier to control now, I think, than it was even a few years ago.
Izach – 00:12:46:
Yeah. Okay. So you had, you had some interesting experiences with, uh, exiting the business. You sold to a Special Acquisition Company going IPO. Can you kind of talk, talk through what that looked like? Um, how that process went, you know, what some of your learnings were there.
Sean – 00:13:08:
You know Yeah, that was another big, moment for us in terms of you know, learning. That was interesting because it was, you know, a couple of individuals approached us, wanted to take our brand, with them public and you know we’d get some seats at the table board seats and essentially still indirectly own our business, but within shares, right? And so. In theory, look, the plan was amazing. We raised X amount of dollars, expand our own business, grow the market cap and… But I think with that. I think that number one, the A couple of things we learned with that are number one, do due diligence a little bit better in terms of. You know, that company wanted to do due diligence on our brand for acquiring us, but we didn’t do enough due diligence on who was acquiring us. And if they could… deliver on what they’re saying that they can deliver. We kind of took it at face value and it. You know. Wasn’t a great experience for us, but it was, you know, it would never happen again. Right. Because I know how to prevent that now. Yeah, ultimately we went public. It was. I think for lack of a better word, a disaster on them, and all the guys that we partnered with. Our brand was essentially the only brand in the public company that was net positive. And they used our brand as a bank, essentially. And so that’s when, after we saw that, it was… Okay, we got to kind of reverse back out of here, get out of here. And we had a couple ventures that we did together within that public company that we actually gave them, in exchange for our brand back. So it was kind of a good trade-off, but they got value from it, we got our company back, and continue to grow it, kind of recover from that growth. And that was all during early days of COVID. So we had that in combination with supply chain issues that were going on.
Izach – 00:15:16:
Yeah, that was in 2021 that.
Sean – 00:15:20:
Izach – 00:15:22:
Okay. And then at some point, and you know, you and I had had… We’ve known each other for a couple years now. I met you and Chris before that.
Sean – 00:15:34:
Yeah, actually, yeah. Before that, I think probably in 2019, maybe even earlier. We were talking about selling our brand then, but we had just, I guess, pivoted and didn’t want to sell yet. Which could have been good for us. I mean, the market was good and that was before kind of, we had a hit on our margins with, you know, manufacturing costs and supply chain issues. So, but ultimately, yeah, we decided to wait, kind of reconnected after all of that happened, waited probably a year from that, that kind of brings us to, you know, the actual listing and sale with you.
Izach – 00:16:14:
Yeah, so we got kind of engaged with you earlier this year, and marketed the company and just maybe from your words, kind of how was that process? kind of getting the company listed, getting ready for the marketing, talking with buyers, you know, what were maybe some of the… pluses and minuses there, things that were surprising or things you thought went well.
Sean – 00:16:42:
Yeah, so surprisingly seamless, I would say. I think the only thing that, you know, if… anybody is listening that is looking to exit their brand or sell their brand is the most importantly is your numbers. Make sure your financials are on point, before you even, you know, are, approach a broker, talk to a broker, list your business. And that’s one of the things that I think even you realize is we had to go back and get our numbers under control internally first. Because I think we were probably behind three to five months, depending. And so we kind of got that all wrapped up, came to you, and it was from there, it was very seamless, I think within, probably a week or two we had it listed, and then another two weeks we had it sold. Yeah, that was certainly surprising for what I wasn’t expecting it to work out to us, I guess.
Izach – 00:17:36:
As you think back, Sean, over the last couple of years, it’s been… I think a pretty interesting experience you’ve had in founding the brand, scaling the brand, going public, buying it back, selling it again. What are the things that stand out to you as most memorable? I think there’s been a ton of learning that you’ve taken from that whole process and now that’s really launched you into some new ventures that are pretty interesting that I want to talk with you about as well. What are the biggest moments that you remember and what are three or four takeaways that maybe you could share with other founders who are thinking about selling and making similar decisions to the ones that you’ve already made?
Sean – 00:18:21:
Yeah, so I guess a few early on if you know if your founder starting a business early on get to market quick. Don’t worry about perfection just Get to market, let your customers, let the market tell you how your product is, your business model is, and adjust from there. I see too many people, waiting two years a year, you know, to launcher products. And frankly, that was me early on, so I can say that now. I could create a business today and launch it tomorrow if I had to, speed and with speed you can make adjustments quick. You could spend two years on perfecting the perfect product, perfect business model, what you think is the perfect product and business model. Go to market and learn that somebody’s already beat you to market a year ago, and the customers don’t like anything about what you have to offer. And so… That’s like the brutality of business, I think, for entrepreneurs that are just getting started. I think anybody that’s been in business probably understands that, sees that same issues. And so that’s one thing I wish I could own, done better is like just get out there and adjust as you go. And so that’s what I do now and it’s very effective. Another big one for me was learning how businesses are valued right when selling, because when I started my business early on, I wasn’t worried about exiting. So, you know, and maybe… Some people are built to build their business not to exit, but I do that so that… I can’t have that lucrative, exit one day. But learning how they’re valued in terms of like what industry you’re in, what multiples you’re getting, you know, every dollar you can bring to the bottom line is another, four times or five times or six times, that dollar that you can earn at the exit. Lean out the business, put as many dollars as you can on the bottom line and… you know, in. Not only does it help you scale in the meantime, but it, you know, your financials will, tell the story to that future buyer as well. So it’s… That ends. I think nowadays in terms of exit value, get some kind of predictable revenue stream, whether it be a subscription model or something similar. I think that’s probably pretty valuable. I think you can, you know, you sold more businesses than I have, so I think you can probably speak to that as well. I think those are a few very important things.
Izach – 00:21:12:
Yeah, just yeah, I guess a comment on the on the subscription revenue. I think what what buyer, especially in the e-commerce and technology space, these are really cashflow businesses. So buyers are buying, the expected cash flows, of the future. And to your point, the more… stable those cash flows are, the higher multiple buyers are willing to pay in general. And so, yeah, things like the reason that supplements typically get a higher multiple than, you know, a consumer product that’s purchased once is because they have the ability to be consumed and repurchased. They’re consumable goods. You know, case in point, the infinity, I’ve got that on the Subscribe and save and I get one. I don’t know every, whatever it is, once a month or whatever, whenever it renews. So that adds in that recurring element to your business, which I think when we took your business to market, a significant portion of your brand, was recurring sales. It was Subscribe and save revenue that was really driving the brand. And so that was pretty attractive. And I guess Alex, that’s maybe a question for you is when When we went to market, what was feedback from buyers and what was the interest level in the brand and how did that process run once we were actively marketing the Rari brand?
Sean – 00:22:31:
Yeah, like Sean mentioned, as soon as we hit the market, we had plenty of activity and we’ve had this thing under contract within two weeks, it felt like. So when it comes to these products, they did stand out with it being a natural pre-workout which stood out. Buyers are always looking for FBA brands that are stable, good Reviews, and then the Subscribe and save was really what took it over the top. Because, you know, buyers want that cash flow like you mentioned and they pretty much hit all the check marks. So it was just solid all around and I believe you had like 40, 50 NDAs in those two weeks and turned around with the cash buyer and pretty much had this thing listed and closed, I would say within a month, 40 days. Yeah, yeah, easily I think.
Izach – 00:23:22:
Sean, what’s next for you? What are you working on now? How long did it take you to startup another company after you sold this one? I think you actually had started several up before you sold Rari. What’s kind of top of mind? What are your favorite projects you’ve got going on right now?
Sean – 00:23:39:
Sure, yeah. So we have a few things going on, but I would say I think the main one is, the main one we’d like to talk about is a company called Synergy Sum. It’s really on the buy side of, you know, all of this. So rather than, you know. Creating a startup business and selling it one day, we’re on the side of e-commerce, Private equity, acquiring existing brands that are attractive to us and that we feel we can scale, with our team and our expertise, and getting into the next category of higher multiples and exiting those in three to five years and so. That’s kind of what we’re focused on now, and that’s e-commerce focused for now at least.
Izach – 00:24:28:
And so what size companies are you kind of looking at there and how many acquisitions would you like to do in whatever timeframe you kind of define it, 12, 18 months?
Sean – 00:24:39:
We’re looking between. I would say, an EBITDA of three and five million. I agree, like two and five million really. And so we’re actually under contract now with one that. Hopefully we should close in the next, three to four weeks, we’ll see. But a lot of those are through leveraged buyouts. So we’ll put in our good portion of equity and then we’ll raise debt financing for the rest, if it makes sense, and scale those. But ultimately, yeah, we’re looking, I think, two to three a year, you know, we’re really opportunistic, you know, virus, I think. We’re not limiting ourselves, but also we’re not… We don’t have numbers that we have. It’s really what makes sense for us as the brand. Does the brand have a good track record? Has it been around for, you know? before COVID, does it have these predictable revenue streams? And ultimately, how the business model functions and the financials stable? Looking at a lot of that due to due diligence and kind of make a decision and assessment on it Nice.
Izach – 00:25:55:
So with the debt financing, do you have bank partners you’re working with or Private lenders or what does that look like for your…
Sean – 00:26:02:
Um, yeah, so we have a kind of a mix, I think. We have some really good relationships with banks, especially up in the Northeast, but You know, they’re a little bit different than like say a mezzanine fund who would, you know, his interest only for the first, you know, three or five years, whatever it is, you know, then all of a sudden there’s a balloon in five years. Whereas a bank, you know, they want their money back, um, you know, equal payments within three years or five years and it’s all negotiable, but It’s just a matter of, I guess, how. You know, do I want more cashflow now? Or do I want more equity? And do I not care about the cash flow in terms of like, you know, investor rate of return, I’d rather just, pay it all back quickly, get my equity and then… exit and get my large… you know, exit value sooner than later. So I mean, those are kind of the two, two focuses we have are like mezzanine funds and in your traditional banks. So. I guess it just depends on the, you know. And these guys also have to be interested in it too. It’s a decision for them. Although we have a good relationship, they’re not going to just finance any company. It’s got to be in their kind of sector, even sometimes in their geographical region. That has a lot to do with it, but… those are the two routes that we’ll typically go.
Izach – 00:27:43:
And so you and your business partner have a lot of operational experience that you’ve gotten through running your own brands. Are you guys going to be? operating these companies you acquire? Are you putting in a management team and you’re kind of overseeing from a strategic view now?
Sean – 00:28:00:
Yeah, that’s a good question. So we don’t want to be in the businesses. You know, we’re kind of… All right. You know, although we have the capability to, I think. And. I don’t think that’s where we want to position ourselves because we do want to scale and acquire more companies, right? So we don’t want to… a company we acquire, we don’t want to be, I don’t want to be the COO for the CMO or anything like that. I want to have a nice team that’s in place. Ideally, that’s already there, that we can come in and acquire, and depending how that owner is structured in there. You know, it depends how… that team will look to. Then maybe the owner is an owner operator where we need to hire somebody right off the bat, needs to be all right, that understands the industry and is capable of running the business. Other times, owners already work themselves out of the business and they have the team and it’s an easy transition. There’s no add backs in terms of like owner’s salary or anything like that.
Izach – 00:29:04:
So how much has it helped you? As you become an investor and focused on kind of these buy side M&A activities, how much does it help you to have gone through several sell side exits personally?
Sean – 00:29:19:
Yeah. It gives you that perspective for sure. Like you know, like I know now what you know, these buyers are interested in. And you know, everybody’s not the same, but a lot of them, you know, they’re, they just want the cash offer upfront. And so. And some other guys maybe want to hang on to 20% of the business. So I think it’s just knowing what they want, having a good, just honest conversation with them, and determining what they want out of the transaction. And that allows us to then, structure in a way that’s also favorable for them and what they actually want rather than Maybe they want to hang on to 20% of the business and we’re competing against an LOI that wants to buy out 100% or nothing. And so. You know, we can, even if our offer is a little bit worse in terms of cash offer, whatever it is, they may go with us because they get to kind of see the upside as we, we scale it as well. It’s just about having that conversation with the seller, and figuring out what they want out of the deal. But that definitely helps get that perspective from building the brand myself. Yeah, awesome.
Izach – 00:30:36:
So any projects you want to mention or are able to mention at this point that might be of interest to our listeners?
Sean – 00:30:48:
Not in particular, I mean, I will say the one transaction we have. Right now, that we’re looking to close in three to four weeks is an e-commerce pool parts company. Um very unique, in terms of You know, they have like two employees, but they’re doing, you know, just under 7 million top line. So it’s a very… very efficient business in terms of, employment and operations, and they were, you know, this company is 18 years old. So it’s a lot of the same. That’s another thing we see is like a lot of. A lot of these older companies that are amazing, they’re kind of grandfathered in, in terms of e-commerce or organic traffic in a way, because they started 18, 20 years ago. And although their website may not be the greatest in terms of appearance or functionality, that’s where we can come in and add some value, give it a fresh website, bring in the functionality that… makes it even more automated, more efficient, and kind of piggyback on what they’ve, the brand that they’ve created and is known.
Izach – 00:32:05:
Yeah, something with an 18 or 20 year history online has got great organic traffic, really good SEO, probably already established. Well, how can our listeners connect with you or your new acquisition company venture if there are opportunities they want to talk to you about? What would be the best way to do that?
Sean – 00:32:28:
The best way to do that is kind of submit to us on synergysum.com. And that sounds just like it’s spelled. Or sorry, it’s spelled just like it sounds. But yeah, that’s the easiest, efficient way to get to us I think and there’s a form on there you can fill out whether you’re looking to exit your brand that will take a look at it or if you just have questions for us. See ya.
Izach – 00:32:56:
Okay. And then, you know, kind of last last question here. How is your experience generally working with Website Closers? Would you recommend using us to friends or other people who are thinking about selling their company?
Sean – 00:33:11:
Yeah, I definitely recommend you guys. Again, it was a lot more seamless, I think, and headache-free than I thought it would be. And so, I would say, one thing is running a business is hard, especially if it’s a successful one. And so. I guess when you’re looking to exit, you guys make it very easy, in terms of understanding where the business owner is at and how, hectic it already is and so that’s nothing makes it, much much easier.
Izach – 00:33:55:
All right, that was Sean Kelly with Rari Nutrition. You can find at rarinutrition.com. That’s rarinutrition.com. Thanks everyone for listening to this episode of the Deal Closers Podcast brought to you by websiteclosers.com. If you like this show, be sure to rate us, write a review, press the follow button and share it with your network. And of course, if you’re looking for help selling your e-commerce business, be sure to visit websiteclosers.com. This episode was edited and produced by Earfluence. I’m Izach Porter. Follow me on all my social channels and we’ll see you next time on the Deal Closers Podcast.