For those who are not familiar with VitaSquad, it is the first successful company I launched with Chris Paciello. It was a Thursday afternoon, and I was still in bed. I had worked LIV Nightclub the night before (this was during my promoter days), and I get a call from Chris. I had known Chris for some time now. I negotiated a deal for my marketing company to move into the Delano Offices in exchange of working a night and doing social media. Chris at the time was highly involved in the Delano as well, and we shared the same office; we interacted more often than not.
Most of the time, I would be the only one in my marketing company, Castle Group Marketing. In the office, I would spend my time working on my own projects and hanging out with Chris and Lia, Marketing Director/everything at the Delano. Every time Chris had an issue that needed to be solved I went and solved it for him and asked nothing in return. When Chris came up with the concept for VitaSquad, a mobile Vitamin infusion company that delivers IV’s to your home, work, or spa, he asked Lia if I would be a good fit. She practically forced him to choose me- I will always love her for that.
The next day he called me in for a meeting where he explained the idea. I had just finished writing my first book at the time Growth Hacking – which explains non-traditional approaches to marketing which hack the growth of a company. After that, the partnership was official. I came into the office the next day at 7am and had everything going. He asked me to be there 10am, but I made sure I had a head start.
Fast forward to present day, and VitaSquad has four locations in two countries. We set up shop inside wellness facilities: Anatomy at 1220 and Body & Soul. The original location was in Pure Pharmacy, and, during the summer season, a location in Ibiza, Spain. I learned a lot during our initial start-up days. If I knew then what I know now, we probably would’ve saved a lot more money and expanded to new areas. Throughout our time in these various locations, besides the medics, we went through a constant change of coworkers. We had people step up and then step down. I also felt like the Marketing Director changed every three months. The only two constants of the company were Chris and myself.
Starting this company was one hell of a ride. Working with Chris was an experience I would never forget. I never thought I could work a normal job and have a boss, but Chris really changed a perspective for me. When you are in a start-up it doesn’t feel like there is a hierarchy. Sometimes, it feels like organized chaos. Either way, you know the person to your left and the person to your right have your back. If things go up in flames, you don’t look at who to blame- you just suit up, put out the fire, and worry about who had the match afterwards. It’s an experience(especially now that start-ups are coming from every direction) that everyone undergo for themselves. The lessons I list below might resonate with you, but the ones you learn first-hand will resonate more.
Lesson 1: Always go with the MVP (Minimal Viable Product).
As a start-up, you have to expect to go through some costs. Initially, you’re going to end up buying things you think you need but truly don’t. For example, we went with a design company to build our site. These people were Chris’s friends. They built one incredible award-winning site, but it was way too complicated for our company. Whenever we needed to update something we were charged per hour of work and the bill just to build the site came out to $10,000 without any updates. After the first year, we paid another company to build out a WordPress site for $1,500-which was easier to the eyes and easier to update. There’s no need to spend substantial amounts of money when you can get great quality at a lower cost.
Lesson 2: Build an Email List early.
VitaSquad would throw events and we would collect emails the old fashion way and input them manually. We also used Chris’s personal email list for the marketing campaign. The biggest mistake, however, was not collecting emails from customers. We had them sign out a consent form just like in a medical’s office. Only problem is that most of the emails that they wrote were not legible. So I would have to transfer into our software, but half the time, I couldn’t read them. Unfortunately, I entered the wrong emails. In the end, we converted to a digital version which made the consent form process easier. The client would type in their email, and there was no problem in reading what it is. We then offered promotions through our emails to existing clients. Building an email list early is essential in collecting accurate information from the beginning.
Lesson 3: Decide fast, change slow.
When you are part of a start-up, you are going to have to make a lot of decisions whether or not you’re sure they will work. The beauty about change is that it is always available. At first, we decided to go with 10 IV options. As sales came in we started looking at what bags sold and which didn’t. Slowly, we discontinued bags and simplified the menu. After that, we decreased the menu even more. Always remember: less is more. It is easier to decrease your goods than it is to constantly increase. We still offered the other bags, but they were on the secret menu. Offering these “secret menu” options also created a level of exclusivity.
Lesson 4: Use all your resources.
I learned this by watching Chris. We went through several Marketing Directors, but Chris proved himself to be the most essential. Our biggest tool that catapulted the face of IVs in Miami was Instagram. If you came into Miami and had more than 150,000 followers, Chris had your contact, made you come in take a picture getting an IV, and post it. Marketing was by far the most important part of a business. Without Chris’s connections, this company wouldn’t have made it.
Lesson 5: When you’re not happy; leave.
I was with VitaSquad for two years. Towards the end, we decided to stop hiring. I would answer the phones while doing operations to keep costs low. At one point, I had five co-workers with me in the office. Then, I found myself sitting in Anatomy working on a company by myself. I was demoralized. Miami Music Week was one of our biggest weeks for us, and we went into with no momentum. We crushed it the other two years, but this year problems came from every direction. After that, Chris and I had a talk. We hired a wonderful girl, Anh.. I trained her, and gave my two weeks. I should’ve found someone to replace me when the last Marketing Director left.
Putting in time at any company for two years is a solid run. It was one hell of a ride, but when you lose the excitement and passion that gets you up and going in the morning, then well… You should stop. This is your life, so make the most of i! Don’t waste time doing anything that no longer speaks to you. I hear people say, “it’s work you’re not supposed to like it.” I find that statement completely depressing. Why work somewhere you don’t love? Know when call it quits, and find new opportunities.
Life is great now! I was stuck in a pattern and had to escape. Sometimes,when you are too close to something, you need someone to give a different perspective. If you can take a big step back, you can see things objectively. Sometime, you’re stuck, and you don’t know it. Never stop growing, never stop changing, and never stop loving what you do. Nobody wants an employee who isn’t happy going to work. Not loving your job will result in poor work performance. So, if you’re going to work, make sure you love every bit of it.
As for VitaSquad, I loved every second of it. My favorite part: when we had a medic hook up everyone in the office with the hangover IV (VitaHydrate), because we were all hung over. Work perks! It was a great two years of my life, and if I could do it again, I would-and bring all the lessons I learned with me. So remember to bleed your product or service until you can’t breathe anymore, because how are your customers supposed to get excited for your product and if aren’t even happy selling it?