Cristina Van Osten is one of those people where you’re not surprised by her success because she’s been making success happen her whole life. Back in her home country of Romania, she decided to sell Avon door to door at 16 years old – and thrived. A couple years later, she started two convenience stores and had a nice exit. After moving to the US at 22, while studying to be a CPA, working full time at a public accounting firm, and being a mom to her young daughter, with all the time on her hands she decided to start a side hustle ecommerce business called Rolio with her brother Radu.
Not surprisingly, that also went very well for her.
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This episode of Deal Closers is hosted by Jason Gillikin and Doug Grindstaff, brought to you by WebsiteClosers.com, and is produced by Earfluence.
Christina Van Osten – 00:00:04:
We just wanted to grow this company bigger and bigger and bigger. Obviously, when you start in two to three people, you need more power behind you to grow this business. To become a leader in pigments on the market, we couldn’t only do it on e-commerce. You needed a physical presence. You need warmth. So we decided, okay, if we are not capable or we don’t have the force behind us, let’s find somebody that can.
Jason Gillikin – 00:00:43:
You’re listening to The Deal Closers, 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 Jason Gillikin, and on the show today, Website Closers’ Doug Grindstaff and I talked to a founder who grew up in Romania and had two successful businesses before coming over to the United States at just 22 years old. Christina Van Osten is one of those people where you’re not surprised by her success. She has the grit and determination needed to thrive. And that all started back in Romania, where she decided to sell Avon door-to-door at just 16 years old.
Christina – 00:01:18:
I believed in the product. I loved the product. I wanted, I researched the product. I wanted to see what the product does. So when I was talking to someone, I was like, I was sharing my own experience. I was sharing my own feelings about that product. So that genuine selling standpoint, it just made the business successful at 16.
Jason – 00:01:45:
Although she was doing well, after just a couple years, things changed. Avon changed their formulas, and it just wasn’t the same product anymore. And it wasn’t something Christina could truly get behind. So she shut that down and started a convenience store by a college campus. Actually, two convenience stores because the first one was doing so well. She sold that business and came to the United States at 22, where she was studying to be a CPA, working full-time at a public accounting firm, being a mom to her young daughter. And with all the time on her hands, she just started a side hustle e-commerce business called Rolio with her brother Radu in 2018. Rolio has now revolutionized the pigments industry and has had a nice exit. But at the start, it was going decently well to one product completely changed its trajectory.
Christina – 00:02:31:
About a year after we started the company, we thought of Mica Powder. And we thought it was just another product, let’s test it, let’s see how it works. And it just boomed right from the beginning, like from our first orders. Uh, first time that we launched the product, I think within a couple of weeks, we realized that we’re going to run out of inventory.
Jason – 00:02:56:
Whoa, okay. Well, what about before that? What were some of the products that you were selling? And was it like, were you having success with those at all?
Christina – 00:03:08:
So we have some success, absolutely. We started with the garden hose. Completely different product, right?
Jason – 00:03:16:
Christina – 00:03:18:
So even the garden hoses were successful for, you know, it’s like a few years, but then we realized that the Mica Powder is the hero product. So we cut down on the garden hose and it’s like, okay, we need to focus just on pigments, just to grow this part of the business. But the garden hoses went strong up until the end. When we eliminated the line.
Jason – 00:03:45:
Oh, that’s very cool. So, with Mica Powder, is this something that you were buying or are you making this? So how does that, how did that work?
Christina – 00:03:58:
So obviously we found a couple of good suppliers in China. But we created here, we designed the packaging, we designed the colors. Every single color and the name of the color, we named it. That was the most fun part, just to name the colors and just to test them and see how they look and what name can we put to a certain color.
Doug Grinstaff – 00:04:25:
I think orange is one of my favorites. Yeah, that was a great one. In other words, make it a good one.
Christina – 00:04:31:
Yes. I think my favorite one is Tuscan Sun.
Doug – 00:04:35:
Christina – 00:04:37:
It just feels like, you know, you’re somewhere in Tuscany and you’re watching the sunset and it’s pretty. Yeah, we have favorites. We have favorites for sure.
Jason – 00:04:50:
So what does Mica Powder do and what does it use for? And then why was it so successful?
Christina – 00:05:00:
So when we started, we started as arts and craft, right? Mica Powder is very versatile. It can be used in medication. It can be used in dish soap. It can be used in car paint, all the sparkles in the car paint, that’s mica powder. Epoxy resin, soaps, makeup, nail polish, lip glosses, all of these items include Mica Powder. So the successful part of this product, besides the design, the colorful packaging, the colorful colors that we had into the set. The colors were vibrant. They were staying vibrant in any kind of medium that people were using it in. And we had kind of the, the blessing and the curse of COVID. So people started growing their own businesses at home, starting doing arts and crafts because everybody was cooped at home. And they just wanted to do projects. So I think that was one of the main reasons that this product worked very well too. Besides the fact that it’s just used in so many applications. In so many businesses.
Jason – 00:06:28:
Yeah. Wow. So how did you market this? How did, how did people find Rolio pigments? How did people find Mica Powder? Was it, Facebook ads? How did he get the word out there?
Christina – 00:06:41:
So we started with Amazon. And Amazon has its own marketing feature as well. Then we started our presence on Shopify, on Etsy, eBay, Walmart, and we created our own website as well. It was just website and e-commerce and marketing through e-commerce.
Jason – 00:07:08:
What was something that did not work for you? Where you’re like, “oh my gosh, I just threw away, I have no idea, $10,000 on marketing”.
Christina – 00:07:19:
I don’t think with marketing you can throw $10,000 and not work, first of all. We didn’t really have that, you know, it’s like loss of, you know, it’s like this didn’t really work. And to be honest with you, this is a product that people get creative. Creative people are not, even though they are going to create something, if there is not coming out right, they’re going to use it to do something else. So this is not a product that we had a lot of losses or we had like a failure on this specific product. Yeah, did we have bumps in the road? Absolutely. We had COVID, transportation problems, other problems behind the scenes that customers never see that. And we tried for them not to experience those problems. But other than that, it was a pretty good growing graph.
Jason – 00:08:19:
That’s impressive. So Christina, you mentioned that when you started this, you still had a full-time job and this was your side hustle. At what point or did you end up leaving your full time job? And how did you make that decision?
Christina – 00:08:35:
I don’t think Rolio was the deciding factor. It was more on a personal side. I just wanted to take a break from public accounting and just focus on something else. And Rolio was also part of my day-to-day life. So I focused on Rolio. I wanted to see you know, put my 100% time into it. See where I’m taking it, where it’s growing, and… Yeah. That was kind of like, you know, a leap of faith. Let’s call it.
Jason – 00:09:08:
Oh, I love that. So at what point were you like, “oh my God, we’ve got something here. This is something where we can keep growing this business to. I don’t know, maybe one day sell it and make some good money from it”.
Christina – 00:09:24:
So, we did not completely think of that. At one point when we saw it, it’s like, okay, this is something that’s definitely worth our efforts, we said, “okay, what do we want Rolio to be?” And we wanted Rolio to become the leader in pigments on the market. Just because the quality is there. Customers love it. The feedback that we got from the customers, we were also involved in the artistic community a lot. So we just wanted to grow this company bigger and bigger and bigger. Obviously, when you start in two to three people, you need more power behind you to grow this business. And to become a leader in pigments on the market, we couldn’t only do it on e-commerce. You needed a physical presence, you need more. So we decided, okay, if we are not capable or we don’t have the force behind us, let’s find somebody that can. So that’s where we decided to bring somebody that has that power. Um, just like, okay, let’s, you know, it was like, it’s, it’s kind of like growing a child, you know, you raise them until they’re 18 and then you have to let them go, you know, to see what they do. That’s exactly what we did with Rolio.
Jason – 00:10:49:
So what does that mean? You hired like a COO or something like that?
Christina – 00:10:55:
No, that’s when we decided to sell.
Jason – 00:10:56:
Oh, got it. Okay. Got it.
Christina – 00:10:57:
To sell to somebody that has more connections into other platforms than just e-commerce.
Jason – 00:11:05:
Got you. Okay. So when you start to think about selling the company, then how did that conversation go with your brother? Was it something where everybody was on board with it?
Christina – 00:11:24:
I think we were all on board. Yeah, I think we’re all on board. We all had the same vision for the company. So I think that’s what worked the best for Rolio is because, yeah, we had our own tasks with the company or within the company. But overall, we were all working together to bring to a certain point.
Jason – 00:11:52:
Got you. So Doug, when were you first introduced to Rolio? How did that happen?
Doug – 00:11:57:
Yeah, so I would say the first time we actually spoke was sometime towards the end of 2022, just a brief high level conversation, one phone call. Christina and I kept in touch every once in a while after that, maybe following up every month, every two months. And then came a timeline and I remember it quite well because it coincides with the birth of my first daughter, which was in May. And so at the end of April, Christina and I connected again. She said, “Doug, I’m finally ready. Let’s have this conversation”. I said, “great. Let’s set up a phone call for”, I think I said May 3rd. And it was like midweek, maybe a Wednesday. And I’m thinking, okay, I’m safe. I’m still four weeks away from this baby being delivered. We’re good. Can’t wait to talk to Christina and Radu and Greta. And we set the call. And then I remember my wife and I had to go to the hospital the middle of the night on May 1st. And so I called Christina. I’m like, “hey, I don’t know if I can do this from the hospital. I also haven’t slept much. So maybe we push it back a day or two”. And that’s what we did. So we had another conversation, probably the second week of May. And so, you know, I think off the bat, there’s a lot of great things about Rolio and about Christina and Radu. Which by the way, I’ve seen some family businesses, I’ve seen partnerships that don’t work out always or that are selling for reasons other than wanting to see it flourish. And so I have to commend them on that. And also, I think one thing that I got a lot of comments on is, and I noticed this myself right away, Christina’s bookkeeping was fantastic. And one of the most important things for those people out there that are thinking about selling a business, you got to have good books. It’s probably the number one most important thing when you’re getting ready to go to market and certainly is by the time you’re selling and going through due diligence.
Jason – 00:13:42:
Yeah, that makes it a lot easier. So what were they looking for, Doug, in a potential buyer? Was it important that it was somebody that could keep the business going? Were they looking for the highest dollar amount? What was important to them?
Doug – 00:13:59:
Yeah, I think it lends a little bit of credence to what Christina talked about earlier and sort of her personality of having this undeniable belief in her product. And that’s why she was so successful in other endeavors in this one, too. And I think that was no different here. I think Christina wanted to see it flourish. And I think there were just so many scale opportunities with a business like this, especially when you’re selling primarily on one or two channels. And then there’s the B2B side of things when you’ve got a product that can go wholesale or it can be in arts and craft stores. And I think so for them, they wanted a buyer who was going to take care of this as well as their employees. I think it was very important to them. Now, of course, every seller wants the maximum cash at closing as possible. And I think we negotiated a very fair deal that was agreeable to everyone after a while. But that’s how I felt in the beginning. And it worked out.
Jason – 00:14:53:
It’s such an interesting business. What percent of the sales were wholesale versus B2C?
Doug – 00:15:00:
I think nearly all of them were direct-to-consumer through Amazon for the most part. I think there were, Christina, correct me if I’m wrong, you had some accounts, some customers who might call and say, “hey, I need 10 or 20 or 30 pounds of a certain product”, but for the most part, you’re selling directly to consumers.
Christina – 00:15:21:
Yes, that is correct. And, you know, it’s like that was one of the parts of the business that we wanted to grow was the B2B.
Jason – 00:15:31:
Got you. And so Doug, were you looking for a buyer that could do that, that could grow that B2B side?
Doug – 00:15:38:
That was the goal. Yeah, I think what they had done on Amazon was just incredibly impressive. And I think the next step is, you know, when I think of a business like this and an industry like this, it sort of naturally produces this vibrant community. It fosters a sense of community amongst creators because these people love these products that are so versatile that can be used in everything from cosmetics to, I think Christine even mentioned fishing lures at one point. And so when you have such a wide array of different myriad of uses for this product, it sort of ignites this creativity and creators where, hey, as a creator myself, I want to show this to everyone else. Hey, here’s what I did with this product. What did you guys do? And it sort of naturally creates this vibrant community. And as a brand owner, that’s a really effective thing for a distribution channel. But it’s also a way to gather a ton of user generated content, which is otherwise extremely difficult or expensive to accumulate.
Yeah. I mean, this business still feels like it’s on step one. I mean, it feels like it could go, bananas here in just a little bit. That’s awesome. I can’t wait to see what happens with it. So Doug, when you’re putting together this package for potential buyers, you’ve got amazing books, there’s a vibrant community. It seems like it’s an exciting business. What happened? Did you get some offers right away?
Doug – 00:17:01:
Yeah. So thinking back on the timeline, we spoke in May. I think we started working together in May. We probably launched at either the end of May or early June, and we had a ton of interest right away. So normally how it works is we would launch on our website, and then about a week or two later, we’d send out a big email blast to everyone. And normally that’s when all the call requests start coming in. With Christina, it was way before that. I think it was the day or even the night we launched on our website, people were hitting me up. They were signing NDAs. They were wanting to set up calls. I had other brokers at the firm that were reaching out and saying, “hey, I have a really good buyer I want to bring to this”. So I mean, we got a ton of interest, Jason, and I think we probably, we had a number of calls in the first month. I think we probably had six or seven. By June, mid-June, early July, we had three offers. Is that right, Christina? At least three LOIs, formal LOIs.
Jason – 00:17:55:
Doug – 00:17:56:
We probably had a couple of people who gave us what I would consider an IOI, which is more of, “hey, Doug, this is a verbal, here’s what I’m thinking”. And then it’s a matter of, “hey, is that within ballpark?” Or, you know, so we did have three formal offers. And I think Christine and I and Radu and the rest of the pack had to just get together and say, “hey, here’s what we like about this offer and this buyer”. And ultimately, we landed on someone that we thought presented a very fair offer, but also could actually fulfill a lot of the scale opportunities that we wanted to see moving forward.
Jason – 00:18:27:
That’s amazing. And Christina, how did you come across Website Closers? Were they the first broker that you found on Google or something like that?
Christina – 00:18:37:
So basically, yeah, that’s what we did. And I interviewed other companies and other brokers. And I think Doug and Lenny were the most… The brokers that actually were very honest and, and they were speaking the truth. It’s like not sugar coated because, um, You know, you could tell me it’s like, yeah, you can sell this business for $20 million. But in fact, you get $2 million, you know. So they were very fair. They were aside and, you know, it’s like next to us along the way, it was just not, nothing was sugar-coated. Everything was the, the real, the real talk. And that’s what I liked about them the most. Yep.
Jason – 00:19:24:
That’s great. Now you’re getting these offers. What’s going through you and your family’s heads at this point where you’re like, “oh my gosh, this is overwhelming. This is exciting. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not time. If everybody’s so interested in this, shoot, maybe we should keep it going and maybe it’ll be worth double in six months”. What’s going through your heads right now?
Christina – 00:19:45:
It was a roller coaster ride and we took it day-by-day. And every time we had a question, guess what? Doug was on speed dial. Like we had a moment after, you know, a month or so where we didn’t talk for like a week or so. And I called him back and I said, “hey, just like, are you a stranger now?” Because like, “I’m just talking to you”. So, um… No, it’s never been a matter of like, are we doing the right decision or not? We knew that we’re doing the right decision. So that part was what we knew. Everything else, we took it day-by-day. It’s an experience. It’s not an easy process. Yes, emotions are involved. We try to keep emotions out. Doug and Lenny helped us to do that, you know. And the best way I can describe it, it was a roller coaster ride.
Yeah. Well, it sounded like it ended very well for you. So you’re getting these offers, you’re evaluating them. Ultimately, you pick one that you feel like is best for you. What happened from there? Any speed bumps along the way?
Christina – 00:20:59:
Actually, everything is going great. So I think we’ve made the right decision with the buyer. Where, you know, it’s like we transitioned them. We’re still in communication with them. We talk on the phone, whatever they need, they can call us. You know, it’s like we want to see this business succeed and we want to see them succeed. And we’re going to help them, you know, it’s like as much as we can to see that happening. And we developed friendships throughout, you know, this process with Doug, with Lenny, with the buyers. Everyone along the way. So we are very, very happy with the outcome.
Jason – 00:21:41:
That’s great. And it sounds like you’re involved as a consultant or helper to the business, but no longer involved in the day-to-day. Is that correct?
Christina – 00:21:51:
Correct. That is correct. Yes.
Jason – 00:21:52:
Okay. How did that decision come about? Because I know some companies will want the sellers to stay on for a little while, at least.
Christina – 00:22:03:
Mm-hmm. So, obviously, we told the buyers that we’re going to be there for them as much as they need until they’re comfortable to stand on their own two feet. For us, it was just consulting and it seems like they’re doing great after not even a month. Like they need us, but they don’t really need us, you know?
Jason – 00:22:27:
That’s awesome. Well, it sounds like you set up the business in a way with SOPs, with the accounting, with everything. That you could hand it off to them and they can really hit the ground running. So congratulations. Nice work.
Christina – 00:22:42:
Thank you. I do have one rule. If, you know, it’s like a bus hits me, you know, it’s like on my way to work, somebody can pick up my work from like, just you just pick up a stranger from the street and they can continue what I was doing. So that’s what we did with Rolio.
Jason – 00:22:57:
You know, I always talk about the bus test and that’s what I mean. And then people kept telling me I was too grim about it. And so I’ve had to change it to the lottery test. So if I win the lottery, will my business be able to, you know, to keep going forward? I kind of like the bus test.
Christina – 00:23:16:
I’ll use that.
Jason – 00:23:19:
Christina – 00:23:19:
I will use that.
Jason – 00:23:20:
All right. So, Christina, congratulations on the sale of the business. For this podcast, Deal Closers, it’s for people who have e-commerce businesses or who are thinking of starting e-commerce businesses. If we have somebody that’s listening who’s thinking about starting an e-commerce business, what advice would you give them?
Christina – 00:23:47:
I would say don’t listen to Tiktok because you can’t, you know, it’s like be at the beach and actually run an e-commerce business. You know, that was a joke, but, you know, a lot of dedication, believe in your product, work hard and it’s going to pay off. That’s for sure. You can do anything and you can sell anything as long as you market it correctly, as long as you put the work into the product, listen to the consumer. The consumer is going to tell you what’s good and what’s bad about your product. And I think that’s basically what’s the key of this e-commerce business.
Jason – 00:24:31:
That’s great. I am confident that you can sell anything. So speaking of that, what’s next for Christina Van Osten here?
Christina – 00:24:38:
Definitely other business opportunities. You know, it’s like maybe we’ll do into the service industry instead of e-commerce and having inventory. Accounting and Radu is going to be involved into the graphic design. We’re going to do what we know best. But definitely other business opportunities are in place.
Jason – 00:25:02:
Well, whatever you decide to do next is going to be fantastic. I mean, starting out as a 16 year old entrepreneur, selling Avon. You have earned it. So congratulations on, on all your success.
Christina – 00:25:16:
Jason – 00:25:17:
Christina, thank you for being on the Deal Closers podcast. How can our viewers, how can our listeners connect with you or Rolio?
Christina – 00:25:27:
Well, the easiest way is to go on the Rolio website, roliopigments.com. They can be part of that colorful world that everyone loves. They can try to make different projects and, you know, it’s like contact directly if they have any questions through the website. If they have any questions for me, because I’m not part of Rolio anymore directly, they can find me on LinkedIn. But other than that, just go to the Rolio website. There is Instagram now. There is Tiktok. There’s other ways of connecting with Rolio.
Jason – 00:26:15:
All right, that was Christina Van Osten. And if you’re interested in checking out Rolio, visit roliopigments.com. Thanks everyone for listening to this episode of The Deal Closers, brought to you by websiteclosers.com. If you like the show, be sure to rate us, write a review, press a follow button, or share 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 Jason Gillikin, and we’ll see you next time on The Deal Closers Podcast.