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The ‘Hot Girls Have IBS’ billboard, buying Facebook groups & tips for building community with BelliWelli Founder Katie Wilson (part 1)

by Female Startup Club
June 22nd 2022

Today on the show we’re learning from Katie Wilson, founder of BelliWelli.

BelliWelli is a functional wellness brand that offers a healthy snack alternative, while also creating a movement ar... More

This is Katie Wilson for female startup club. Hey everyone. It's dune here, your host and hype girl today on the show, We're learning from Katie Wilson, the founder of belly Welly Belly Welly is a functional wellness brand that offers a healthy snack alternative while also creating a movement around the very common but rarely talked about struggle of digestive health, which affects over 70% of US adults. Katie saw a gap in the $280 billion functional food market and set out to create a treat that was made by gut sufferers. Four gut sufferers with the first gluten free dairy free vegan and certified loaf roadmap bar being born this episode is so much fun. Katie is a marketing genius and shares so many learnings around how she built her communities, grassroots initiatives to get the word out there about the brand and the billboard that went totally viral.

If you love this episode, as much as I did recording it, remember to screenshot and share on instagram stories to help other ears find us, let's jump straight into this episode. This is Katie for female startup club. If your marketing and e commerce brand, you already know that data changes everything more data means more power. And if your email or SmS tools can't handle all that data, they're probably holding you back and that's where clay Vo comes in. It's top notch personalization and segmentation, help you send the right message at the right time, guided by unlimited real time data from your online store and text, request a demo at Clay Vo dot com. That's K. L. A. V. I. Y. O. Dot com female startup precincts. Katie Hi, welcome to the female startup club podcast. Hi, I'm so excited for this conversation. I've been looking forward to it all week. Thank you for having me on.

I'm so excited to for everyone listening. We were just uh sharing some similarities in our stomach issues. I am a fellow stomach issue sufferer. We need we need a name for this. A fellow struggler. Yeah, the got strugglers. Oh my gosh, it's been a disaster but I'm so excited to dig into your story and your brand. I think I'm gonna learn a lot from you. I'm really excited. Do you want to give everyone listening a little bit of an introduction to who you are and what your brand is? Yeah, absolutely. I'm Katie, I'm here in Socal and I run a company called belly Welly. So as you briefly mentioned, we make brownie bars, snack bars, cookie bars, little square bars. For anyone who knows the daily gut struggle. So that's bloating. I. B. S. Food intolerances, just a sensitive stomach, a sensitive gut um Stevo leaky gut. Um Our bars are for you and even if you don't have stomach issues.

I. E. My husband who co founded the company with me. You love these little bars uh think he eats more than I do a day. Actually love that. Now I know that you come from a background of dealing with stomach issues and your health issues kind of started this idea I guess, or this business, but I'd love to go back to, you know what you're up to in life before you started the business? Were you always destined to be an entrepreneur? What was going on? Give us the, give us the lay of the land. 100%. No, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I'd be here running an I. B. S friendly snacks, CPG brand. Um So I was one of the odd few in life that knew at age 10 that I wanted to be a matchmaker. A professional matchmaker. I should have a really good reason for you at this point as to why, but I don't, I just knew I loved matching people. So in college I interned for professional matchmakers in L. A. Every summer, luckily had very cool parents who just said, okay, this sounds totally sketchy, but you do you and we're behind you.

So, I did that for four summers in L. A. And then eventually walked away thinking, gosh, maybe this is not a very lucrative career path. Um And so I went to go work and tech. I went to go work at hulu actually And still couldn't shake matchmaking. So, found someone who was building a matchmaking startup, joined forces, loved every minute. Um scaled matchmaking into 15 us cities and then eventually I fell into celebrity matchmaking. So I then became a celebrity matchmaker for you tell us I've signed my life away 10 times over, which was the worst part right is that I never get to share all the crazy cool stories. But um so did that for years. And then eventually the ceo of match um convinced me to come be the chief dating strategist at match, which totally I think will go down in my mind is the best job title ever. I still can't tell you exactly what it means. Um but I went over and and um studied dating apps and talked more about dating and relationships.

And anyway, so no, never in my wildest dreams did I see myself here and I can absolutely share more as to how dating turned into founding an I. B. S. Friendly snack bar company. But yeah, you can say this was this was this was not part of the grand plan. And so how does this start to enter the story? Like what was happening in your personal life that started leading you towards belly welly? Yeah, so about six years ago I got about a food poisoning. Um and I know what you're talking about stomach troubles here at the beginning of the call, but bout of food poisoning and I'll spare you the T. M. I. But things never resolve themselves, right? So, I got this food poisoning. My symptoms lingered. And so I did all the things you do to go try to fix said symptoms, colonoscopy, endoscopy, ease, breath test, diets, random probiotics. I even I mean I was so desperate that I was ordering the supplements that take like five months to get to you on amazon that have no brand name. Right? I was trying everything and I was grieving this pre stomach problem life.

Um Right I could remember a day where I would eat mac and cheese and fine right hours later be fun. Yeah so um developed these gut issues and became obsessed with trying to fix them. And in doing so I started camping out in facebook groups which almost sounds old school at this point but notice that there was thousands of facebook groups dedicated to buzz words that have become important in my life. Things like I. B. S. Cibo bloating low five map reflex cramping. And these words were just missing from the retail grocery store shelf. Um Yet everyone was talking about these these words and I think in retail you often saw got friendly or got healthy which was totally missing the boat. It wasn't speaking my language or the language of these thousands of other people I was meeting in these facebook groups. So the other thing that happened at that point is I was sitting across from what should be some of the healthiest people in the world celebrities right? So for those that don't know most celebrities have livin chefs livin trainers, right, livin nutritionists, dieticians and just like anything that starts impacting your life, you start talking about it with anyone that will listen, which is what I did and at the time that happened to be that the celebrity clients I was working with and I couldn't believe how many of them could relate to this idea that they were living with daily gut issues.

So um I started to feel like, gosh, this feels like it's everyone could this be, could we all just be living with gut issues and no one's talking about it out loud and so um still no aspiration of starting a company. But I started growing this huge online community on facebook and I found myself in tears one night because I missed chocolate chip cookies, which sounds so petty, but anyone listening that has got issues will understand um that you get to a point where you can't eat rice and vegetables one more time, right? You want the on the go and the sweet treat and I was limiting my life. I noticed that I was starting to limit what I was doing because of my gut issues which was so unlike me, right, I would we plan a trip and my first thought would be what am I gonna eat on the plane and what am I gonna eat when I get there is the food gonna be tough for me and I was like this is crazy, this is so not me. So my husband said, look, I'm gonna make you the perfect gut friendly chocolate chip cookie. I'm going to hire a food scientist and a dietician over zoom and I'm gonna work on this in our kitchen for five months. So he did worked on it for hours in our kitchen, he would zoom with these professionals and he eventually made me the perfect got friendly I.

B. S. Friendly chocolate chip cookie. I mean husband of the year, well husband of the decade rather this poor guy had no baking experience either. I mean this guy is not a baker or a chef in the slightest at this point. Is he baking it truly just for you or has it already started to form a business idea in the background? No, I'm like matchmaking it up and loving my job. I didn't occur to me to start a business. Um I just was fiercely curious about the space and becoming increasingly more obsessed. The more I understood that it felt like it was everyone and know it was like the secret that um everyone was unintentionally keeping. And and actually in fact a moment or kind of a pivotal point in the story is I sent out a survey monkey to my personal network at one point, just again, fierce curiosity. And one of the questions I asked was do you consider yourself an I. B. S. Suffer or do you suffer from daily I. B. S symptoms. And I sent it to personal network and end up reaching 500 people between my husband and I.

No affiliation with gut health or gut issues And 76% of respondents said yes. And that blew my mind, right? Because not only does it mean that 75% of us have this, but it means we're not talking about it here. It turns out that 75% of my network is dealing with this and we're not having that conversation. It was crazy. Crazy. Yeah. It's crazy. So love this chocolate chip cookie. I told Nick, hey make 10 extra chocolate chip cookies. I want to share this with the community we built on on facebook. How big is your community by the way? Just to interject Yeah 300,000 people on Facebook. Okay. It's a really big community. It's huge. Okay. Got it. Yeah. So one thing I'll back up one thing I had done is I had started buying facebook groups. Oh so I had started a facebook group and then I woke up one day and thought I just want to make this community huge. Let me offer $500 and buy Facebook groups from some of these ads. And it worked. Can you can you group facebook groups together? No, so I had to keep a lot of it separate. But what you can do is you can share links to your other groups within your groups and then everyone joins the same group.

Oh my gosh okay cool. So you start buying the groups and then kind of like cross marketing and just and I it sounds crazy but I still didn't have an aspiration of starting a company. It was just this like it was called a passion project. So he makes me these these cookies and by the way where this starts to cross from a cookie to a bar um We almost have like this amazing identity crisis, we're not a bar, we're not a cookie, we're not a brownie or something. Kind of all three. I started stuffing the cookies into bar molds that I had bought on amazon so I could take them with you on trips out for a day. So I said look let's share these cookie bars with the community, can you make 10 extra bars? Um Ha ha because we woke up to 800 orders. So we at that point convert our entire little L. A. Apartment into a commercial kitchen and I'm dead serious when I say like our entire little 700 square foot apartment into a commercial kitchen with one oven shelving lining the whole thing ingredient containers tables. Um And nick starts making thousands of ours every day.

Um My dad's a pilot, he's flying in every two days to help him and um ups is coming to our house six times a day, three months in right we were doing I mean thousands of dollars to the sales from the home kitchen. Um so at that point, that's when we made the decision to do what you do, which in our case was scale out of the kitchen and we can talk about everything that that entails, but scale out of the kitchen into a co packer, raise money and create a real and thoughtful brand. I love how you're like, I wasn't starting a business, wake up one day, oh I have a business, I've got 800 orders, I actually do have a business now because I've just accepted money from all these people, so when do you quit your job? So we worked out of the home kitchen for months um and I was still full time at match as the chief dating strategist. So we again raised our first million, you know, I decided we need to create a really thoughtful brand. So of course I called the designer the lead designer at match um who's designed some of the best dating apps in the world and said, hey, can you build a brand that makes gotta shoes cool.

So they designed the brand. Um we found a co packing broker formulate er And launched the business on March 26 of last year, we've been operating for just just over a year and I quit. So everyone at match knew I was working on this, right, but I don't think everyone knew to what degree, So I was very nervous about it and I quit my job. I gave my two weeks, two weeks before we were launching bali Wally and Forbes was doing an article, so it was like, I knew it was going to be public that we had raised money. So I went to my boss and I said I was super nervous about the conversation and I said, look, I'm actually, this business I kept talking about has actually gotten bigger and I've raised money and now it's a thing and I'm gonna quit and he said you can quit if I can invest. And so he was one of our first investors and actually many members of my team ended up writing checks into the business, their first angel check. So it was pretty special. Oh my gosh, that's so cool, wow! Yeah, so the other piece of this is we launched the business from the hospital and I can talk about that, but Technically my last day was the day before Belly Belly launched on March 25 and we launched March 26 and I read that you went into premature labor and that's why you're in hospital the following day.

Yes, so we um I had made the decision, I think this is like another whole conversation, that's really interesting nowadays, but fundraising while pregnant, right? How do you handle that? How do you navigate that? I don't know the answer, but I know that what I did is I didn't tell anyone and I can't, I don't know if that was super intentional or it was just this thing that, like, you know, all of a sudden, I hadn't told anyone. So therefore it was too weird to tell someone. But anyway, I didn't tell anyone that I was pregnant while I was fundraising. And so, um, I thought I had time, right? But I just hit six months pregnant, just over six months pregnant. And we're launching the business the next day, quite literally. And I'm watching an episode of the Kardashians. I still blame the Kardashians because I've never watched the show, ever watched an episode of the Kardashians and my water broke and I was shocked, right? It was so early. It's almost three months early. Um, and so go to the hospital, we give birth to little Beta. She's £2. So very, very, very, very like smaller than my hand and then I had a severe complication.

So I ended up hemorrhaging and they ended up saving my life with the hysterectomy one. In a million complication. No one saw it coming. Um, I mean, kind of the kind of complication where they had me say goodbye to everyone in the operating room. Oh my God, yeah. So they saved my life. We wake up betas, betas, you know, in the Nicu and we launched a business from, from the hospital bed the next day? What? And I was there for a really long time and it was so the next day was weird and that we were writing investors and emails saying not only have we been pregnant, but premature baby. We're launching the business from the hospital, met with nothing but support and kindness. And so I was there for a long time and veda was there for almost three months. So we were in the business from the hospital for a long time. And so the doctors and nurses were actually a huge part of our launch story. Oh my gosh, what a journey! There's so many things to unpack here. I don't even know where to start. Oh my God, wow. Okay, so you launched the business at this point, you've done like a pilot I guess.

Like you've done kind of a soft launch, you've launched to your community and you're selling kind of from your apartment. Then you raise the million dollars you find a co packer, you launch the business to kind of like more officially. I know that you at some point changed your name from, I be simple to belly Welly. Was that before or after launching? Yeah, great question. So I be simple was the kitchen brand. That's the easiest. So by the time we launched officially March 26, you know, our launch day, that was the first time anyone had heard the word belly welly got it. And so what made you change the name and how did you come up with belly Welly, It's so cute. I love it. I think it's a classic case of founder bias and I think it's a great example of why it's important to have investors and advisors who have done it before around you. So I created this name, right? We were in a home kitchen, I had tunnel vision and was just focused on this I. B. S community and so as we're kind of raising money and getting ready to launch two of my favorite investors and advisors are the early smart suites team members.

So they helped build the brand smart sweets and I think, you know what's so funny, I actually just interviewed Tara before this, oh my gosh, this is Beth and korean. That's such weird timing. It is weird timing. Beth was number two and smart suites with Tara and she talks about death in the whole episode. Oh my gosh, that's so cool. Beth is amazing. So it was beth over resume that was like, so I think we should change the name. And I think at the time I was like, no, it's such a good name. I'd be simple as an amazing name and Beth and korean were great. It was just like, I think they round up a couple times like, let's just talk about changing the name and I just had this tunnel vision, right? Like I would think this name is so amazing. I went, why would we ever change it? And eventually I came to my senses and we had a big brainstorm tech session and I can't remember who cracked the name eventually, but um thank goodness, I changed the name, right? Why were they saying that you should change the name limiting? I think is the best way to put it. I don't, I don't know if you can build the fun brand that I think really is today with the name, I be simple, right?

So, and I think I be simple was like was the, what we did is we took a lot of risk, right? We made metallic packages, we really moved away from traditional health and wellness norms and packaging branding name uh and I be simple was just safe and boring in my opinion. Um so anyways, the importance of having smart people who've done it before and aren't afraid to challenge you was the takeaway there, I'm such a fan of your brand, by the way, I mean you can probably tell just by looking at me, I'm like pink and sparkly all the things, so it resonates to me, it speaks to my soul. Our ceo is like the most logical person and I definitely represents my personality um and so he calls it the Katie sparkle pony brand, which I love because it totally is love that, claiming that for sure by now you have heard me talk about our newest partnership with athletic greens, a product that I started taking last year when my gut health issues were at their peak and why I love this company is because it was started when the founder was experiencing a ton of gut health issues himself and ended up on a complicated supplement routine to recover that cost him an insane amount of money per day, Like $100 per day.

He created athletic greens to help other people like him and like me have an easy nutrition routine for a much cheaper investment into your health. I've been taking a G1 since last year and it's been just so easy to build into my daily habits for female startup club listeners. Athletic greens is going to give you a free one year supply of immune supporting vitamin D and five free travel packs with your first purchase. All you have to do is visit athletic greens dot com forward slash startup again that athletic greens dot com forward slash startup to take ownership over your health and pick up the ultimate daily nutritional insurance. Let's talk about the launch of the official store from the hospital bed. What happens? How do you kind of, I imagine you've obviously you've got this huge community, you're able to grow very organically through the community that you've spent like, you know, potentially a year or two years or however many years building. What comes next to try and get out of the community that you've already built and beyond that.

So we really relied on the community only for the first couple of months um which was amazing uh community, word of mouth. The advantage that we had and I suppose continue to have is they're quite literally isn't anyone in the space, right? So normally in CPG your You're up against, I don't know nowadays, 10 plus brands, right in your category, we didn't have anyone. So it was, it was almost as if everyone had been waiting for us, right. In fact, most of what we heard initially was where has this been? Why has no one ever said these words out loud and I still don't know the answer. I mean I think about that all the time, it's like Why was no one in the space? It was it is it just that no one had thought to stay, we're gonna, I mean people have talked about gut health, but no one had literally spoken to the 75% of us living with gut issues, which is almost a different conversation than just let's promote gut health or let's boost gut health. It's a different conversation. No one had that, so we really were able to rely on organic um reach and growth for the first couple of months um which is great and our facebook community was a huge part of that, is it still a huge part of it?

Yes and no, it isn't that I haven't put resources into growing that community much, much more so the community is, is growing a bit but it's not you know community doesn't have a million plus people in it today but where the community absolutely impacts the businesses, they tend to dictate all of our decisions and I don't I don't throw that around as we talk to our community before making decisions when I say that we quite literally let them make decisions. So um Couple of really good examples one recently right? I mentioned that we are about to launch peaches and green right? That's an idea that they had and loved. So my belief has always been there, the ones we're making this for, you've got to go with their suggestions. So they've chosen the ingredients in the product, they chose our tagline. I wanted to change our tagline. So I recently surveyed them, they all said no so now we're not changing the tagline is the tagline. The hot girls have I. B. S. Well I wanted to put that on all of our retail packaging and they were like do not. Oh I love that. I know I know me too but that's that's where I really tried to say look I mean I'm part of the community right?

I live with gut issues and that's why this this works. But um I'm one person and so they literally do make make decisions for the brand. Just a side question that's not really related to the story, it's going back to the facebook group business model? How do you by a facebook group in terms of like how do you know how much to pay for a facebook group? Yeah this is like where there's no good answer. So it's not a thing it's like where is where I'll start. People often say how what what's the process? There is none. So when I had this idea I called her attorney and I said could you give me an agreement or he laughed Like that's not a thing. Like I don't think you can even technically transfer ownership like that but like go take the risk right? I mean try it. So what I did and it worked. Um I don't know if it's just because I you know the low five map I. B. S. Got friendly community is a really ethical community. Um but in my case I reached out to admins of the groups and I just explained, I said look I'm creating a community. I'm fascinated by the space.

I want to be a part of the community. I want to be a responsible member of the community. Um This was before the brand to. Um so it was just all true. Uh and I'd love to offer you X priced by your group and I would I would usually There was no scientific answer to price. Um I would I would use a number of people in the group, right to model out my decision but I always spend somewhere between $500 and $1 $1000 and I would say, look, I'll paypal, you, you can add me as an admin and once you receive the papal remove yourself as admin and it worked. So I don't know, I don't know if, I don't know if you could replicate it in every industry, but in my case it was amazing, fascinating. And like how big was the group that you would pay for like $1,000 for Like 50,000 50, 50,000? That was one of 85,000, I think that's the, I paid the most, I think I paid $1,100 for that. And then you like kind of pick kind of one as the main one that was the most engaged or something and then try to funnel more people for that. No, because in, in my community they're very different functions in each group.

So you know, low fat map is a, is a component of our bar and our story. So lots of low fat map specific groups. Sometimes there was just bloating specific groups. Sometimes there was no specific groups. So sometimes there was overlap. Um, but yeah, almost different communities within the same category in space. Got it, got it, got it. Okay, cool. Right now I've got the facebook thing down pat, I've learned that I'm super fascinated by it. That's so cool. I've never had someone on the show kind of go down that pathway. Love it. I want to talk about the billboard and the merch, Tell us about the billboard and the, so I would love to pretend this was some big strategic plan that I had from the beginning, but like so many things in a startup, it was a happy accident and I'm totally happy to say that. But you know, part part of our mission here and I knew from day one that the uphill battle we were going to have is is normalizing the conversation around gut issues because no one had done it and I'll never forget. Another founder had told me when I was first starting the brand.

No one is ever going to buy a food product that talks about I. B. S. I'd like to think that person is wrong, but that was always in my head, right. It was like I've got to overcome that, right? Because people believe that. And so we all, I'm a Tiktok obsessed and we all know that there's this trend on Tiktok of, of using the phrase gorgeous gorgeous girls or hot girls have insert stigmatized topic right? As like a means of reclaiming the space. So hot girls have anxiety, right, gorgeous, gorgeous girls have anxiety and it's, it's a cool movement right? That again reclaims things that are stigmatized. And so I had never seen that done with gut issues very well, but gut talk and gut issues are huge phenomena on Tiktok too. So Anyways, I was driving in the middle of L. A. one day and I thought, what if I put up a hot pink billboard that says hot girls have I. B. S. Um as a means of just starting this conversation. And I felt like it was something, it was something you, because I B.

S. And hot girls is such a polarizing thing, right? I, I felt like it worked and I also thought it was something someone might pull over and take a picture of and share with a friend. And that's where I think out of home works. I don't think out of home is very successful. Call 1 800 Smile Club. Right? I, so um, my biggest concern was that people were going to misinterpret the message. I didn't want people to think, I literally meant hot girls have I. B. S. I didn't want this to be exclusive by any means. But anyways got home and I googled billboard people the first number that popped up and it was two guys and I said, hi guys, I'm Katie and I want to put up a billboard that says hot girls have I. B. S. And I think there was dead silence on the other side of the phone and I think they said, have you ever put up a billboard before? And I was like, no, but that's what I want to do and they said, okay, let's do it. And so I um got a design together and I said show me placements in L. A. I don't want to I think I initially told them I don't want to spend more than $5,000.

And they were both like I think you're gonna have to increase your budget. So then I bumped it up to $7,000 And that for anyone listening gets you like remnant billboards space that no one wants to buy and it happens to be available for 30-60 days. I said show me the remnant billboard options And they came back with a bunch of options and our ceo and I spent hours deciding which option to choose. We just got lucky and chose a placement that worked happened to be freeway visible and then part of L. A. That everyone drives by and you're stuck in traffic and so we put up this billboard and people went crazy for it. Um Like so crazy that you drove by up most days and there was a line of people outside the billboard taking a photo or selfie in front of it. That's super cool. But what was cooler to me is that it had the intended effect. People were proud to share the billboard and say this is so me this is so many. The number of times I heard these photos in my group text right now with three of my friends so it really had the intended effect and so we started selling the merch and to this day we cannot keep the merchants doc.

It's the like the bane of our existence which I love because not only is it a great business right? But I love that it has made it okay to talk about the shoes and we used I. B. S. Because I. B. S. Is a term that's recognizable, but we're more than an I. B. S. Brand. It just that fit within the campaign really well off the back of that as a campaign. What have you kind of done to continue the growth and the momentum and what's kind of like in your marketing house at the moment? So we've continued on the out of home path. So after L. A. We did a Portland billboard which is where I'm from. The same exact thing happened actually in Portland. There was someone on Reddit found the billboard and arranged a meet up with a bunch of strangers in Portland to meet at the billboard who all had got issues. Amazing shout out to that lesson. Love that. Yeah, I love that. And then we did it again in Times Square. Uh and then we're back again in L. A. So we only do one at a time. We've stuck with it within our budget. So we never spent a lot of money. What's the Times Square budget?

Under $10,000. That's what I'll say but that required me to wake up at four a.m. Sign a random piece of like I was waiting on it because it's you get these remnant spots And you really only need 30-45 days to make an impression right? Because that's enough time for everyone to see you on social and share it. So that's been our theory. So out of home continues. I mean the hawk L. I. B. S. Campaign specifically has definitely taken on a life of its own. For example, we just hosted a dinner with two of my favorite brands, lollipop and dough at a restaurant called in pasta in L. A. And we called it the hot girls I. B. S dinner. Um and we had a bunch of craters and clubs to the dinner and everyone was rocking hot girls. I. B. S loud and proud right? Which is just like taken on a life of its own. So oh my god, I love it so much. Me too. Yeah. But the only, the only problem I'll say is that again we're not just I. B. S. It's just um that campaign resonates because most people know what I. B. S. Means and if you have kind of a sensitive gut you know that it's probably for you but um you know we don't, we want to be mindful of not pigeon holing ourselves there too totally.

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Reading through like your comments on instagram and Tiktok and things like that. The sheer amount of comments that you get, you can see how deeply engaged your community is. What are some of your key tips for keeping the community alive? Like I know that it sounds kind of like you're just, it's just organic and it's just doing its own thing. But I'm sure that's not the case. I'm crazy is the answer. Uh, I email 50 customers every night between two and 4 am. So I've never missed a day. So I choose 50 people. Yeah. Woman, When do you sleep? Not yet. But so I I'm a matchmaker at heart, right? Always just say like I'm a matchmaker who happens to be running. So what I mean by that is I just like people and I just like hearing stories. So I, the way I've tried to approach this or I shouldn't even say I have tried like the way that, but what feels authentic to me is building this as if I'm doing it with like thousands of new friends by my side versus customers. And so if you're treating customers like friends, right, you don't just talk to them about belly welly, right?

You get to know them as friends and people. And so that's what I try to do. So Every night, right? I'll choose 50 people. I'll email them. I mean, I'll introduce myself, ask if I can hear their story, their gut health journey, anything they're willing to share. So it's like I really do feel like I've made just like thousands of new friends that happen to be building the company with us. Um, and I try to do five things a week. Four customers that have nothing to do with belly welly. So my first job ever was a cashier at Nordstrom. And one thing Nordstrom does that I'll never forget is even back in the day, they're way ahead of their time. Thinking about it, you had this little personal book where you would write down customer details, things about their life. So you know, when you came back in as a customer and cashier was like, how's your sons? You know, college applications going? You felt really heard and seen. So I try to do that. I keep a huge spreadsheet to the best of my ability. Um try to keep up on everyone's, I mean not everyone but on lives. So for example, yesterday a woman, one of our customers, her daughter was going into surgery, really worried about it.

So we send a little care package, had nothing to do with bali bali to their house. And so, um, yeah, I try to do as much of that as possible. I refuse to give up customer service or instagram, which I need to eventually part with because I like to have those interactions. So I send voice notes to everyone on instagram. Um, I'm always happy to pick up the call phone and talk to a customer. Um, so I don't know some day, something that won't be scalable, but right now it's what feels right and authentic. That is so cool, so cool. And it's funny like people can look at a brand and be like, oh yeah, they just like popped and it was really organic and it and it does have that feel and there is so much organic to it and you can see why with the, with the campaign and, and you know the brand and everything why it has, but really behind the scenes, there is so much, you know going into building those relationships and caring about the people who are supporting you and your brand, that's really amazing. I feel like you're someone who's going to have more organic kind of grassroots, like things that you've done and I want to dig into more kind of things like this.

Is there anything else that comes to mind that you're like, yes, I have also done X, y and Z. Um yeah, so what, this is just like a little nontraditional for most CPG but doctors, so we have really gone hard into doctors offices um and we didn't, we, we made a very conscious decision not to create a food as medicine product, right? I think in our space you could quite easily and maybe there's even a case for doing this and another branch should do it, you could quite easily create like the ensure of the space right, which is like much more, it has a much more medicinal approach, right? I'm not saying insurance medicine, but what might sit with supplements, right? You could create that product and we had a lot of pressure initially to do that. People really thought that was where we should go and I just adamantly felt like that was not right for us. I even have taken this very, you could call it controversial and you could call it wrong and maybe it is wrong, but I don't believe our our place in the spaces to be experts. I believe we can be good at at surfacing expert information and we do.

I'd like to think we do that um surfacing you know content from R. D. S. And doctors and nutritionists. Um but I think our places we are here with you were part of the girl gang, right? We we speak your language and we're here to relate in like have that that judgment for you know to foster that judgment free zone and that conversation and we're in this with you. So anyways all that to say I didn't expect us to be a fit for medicine and it turns out doctor's offices love having shiny pink crazy looking things in their opposites, right? Because there's they're fun and weird and and Gi offices tend to be sterile and white and boring. Right? And so um it was this thing we stumbled into. So what I initially started doing is I every friday I would google G. I doctors and I would send with unprompted no explanation. I would send two boxes of belly Wellies to G. I. Offices every friday to 10 different GI offices every friday and then the next week I would call them and I would say look uh you probably got the shiny box of weird bars and you're probably thinking what are these?

I sent them their certified low fog map which is recognized in the G. I. Community, right? As as something they generally put their the low fat diet doesn't mean they recommend to their patients. We're actually certified low fog map um where the first snack bars making low fog map and got issues cool to talk about. And so we really leaned into low fog map when it comes to that, that side of the business. Um and they loved it, right? They've never had anything like this. So these doctors offices became totally addicted to carrying the bars and then we started making little cards with special promo codes for each doctor that they could hand out the patients. So now we sit in tons and tons of GI offices around the country. Um and it's like this little kind of c I say secret, it's not actually a secret, but it's this kind of unknown piece of the business that drives a lot of revenue for us that most people don't know about. So yeah, we seem to crack the code on that thing that like an influencer, a creator, an average person is proud to pull out of their purse, but can also sit on a doctor shelf and be be legitimate in that context too.

Damn! That is so cool. Gosh, I'm so excited for all the future campaigns that we're gonna see and like all the future stuff. Me too, I just have to think of it. But wow. Oh my goodness, your brain is is really cool. Very, very cool. Is there anything that you wish someone told you when you were just starting out Million things? Yeah, I'm trying to think of the um, yeah, it's actually my favorite thing and I actually did know this starting out, but I think this sounds very cynical and hard. Like I'll give a negative and a positive, my negative is like, you don't get points for effort, right? This is just a business where you just have to perform and if you're not performing, it doesn't matter that you tried really hard, right? And uh, I think what's something else I would say again, I think we did a decent job of this, but like the community should be dictating every decision in my opinion. Like I would just underscore that over and over again. Like that's what you're creating this for. You may think your ideas are amazing, right? Doesn't mean they are um and you've got to build this for people that really exist.

I love that. That's the thing. I guess. I try to remember and it's hard, right? Like I think I have this genius idea and then I'll ask everyone and they're like, no, that's not interesting. You missed the mark. Yeah, totally. Yeah. You just realize you're one person, right? It's like, yeah, that's why Tiktok is interesting. It's why videos go viral and you're like, why did that go viral? So what does the future hold? What do you want to shout about? What's coming up that we can get excited about three Buckets. One is some upcoming fun collaborations, so we're gonna be launching some new flavors with some cool folks in the space one is coming up here very soon and I don't know if I can chat about it, but two new flavors and three new products altogether. So new, new categories actually in four, we're going hard into retail this year. So retail will be a new exciting challenge. Um we've committed to being hot pink on the retail shelf. We can't figure out why Hot Pink doesn't exist on the retail shelf today. Maybe there's a good reason and we're really making a huge mistake, but we are gonna, it's gonna be a huge win.

We think that's our secret sauce, right? We made it, we made the hot pink sparkly ist package you've ever seen that will undoubtedly stand out at retail. Um and we're going hard into that and going to hope it works. It's 100% gonna work. I love that for you. I'm so excited. Oh my gosh, what a cool year ahead. Yeah, I mean, learning a lot and I don't know, two kids at the same time and my husband are still in this together, right? So we're co founders. So, um yeah, you know, trying to figure it all out how you juggle business family, the whole shebang the whole shebang. I'm sure you're gonna figure it out just fine. Hey, it's dune here. Thanks for listening to this amazing episode of the female startup club podcast. If you're a fan of the show and want even more of the good stuff, I'd recommend checking out female startup club dot com where you can subscribe to our free newsletter, we send it out weekly covering female founder business news insights and learnings in D. C. And interesting business resources.

And if you're a founder building an e commerce brand you can join our private network of entrepreneurs called hype club at female startup club dot com forward slash hype club. We have guests from the show joining us for intimate, Ask me Anythings, expert workshops and a group of totally amazing like minded women building the future of DTC brands. As always, please do subscribe rate and review the show and post your favorite episodes to instagram stories. I am beyond grateful when you do that.

The ‘Hot Girls Have IBS’ billboard, buying Facebook groups & tips for building community with BelliWelli Founder Katie Wilson (part 1)
The ‘Hot Girls Have IBS’ billboard, buying Facebook groups & tips for building community with BelliWelli Founder Katie Wilson (part 1)
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