Premama founder Dan Aziz has hockey jerseys hung up in his office.
He has the build of a man made for the sport: a solid frame with the strength to exert power, yet the agility to use it gracefully. He’s younger than either his success or demeanor imply, is not married, and has no children.
Oh, and he is absolutely crushing it in the pre-natal vitamin category.
Dan may be as surprised as anyone that things have worked out this way. But the story of his success is a spectacular case study in shrewd market research, persistence, and resourcefulness.
How did Premama start?
The truth is it’s not the sexiest story – it really just came out of market research.
I took a class my senior year where the purpose was to create a company that could be sold for $100m. I was an athlete, and I was interested in the supplement market.
I started going to the local Whole Foods and asking people what they wished was in the supplement section. I met a lot of pregnant women who complained about the terrible pre-natal vitamins they had to take – how nauseous they made them, etc.
This led to more formal market research, and the discovery that 96% of pregnant women hated these pills, and wished for an alternative.
The first idea was a “Vitamin Water” for pregnant women, but that would have been incredibly expensive to ship. So we switched to powder, and that made all the difference.
Premama entered, and won, the 2011 Rhode Island Business Plan competition – a big validator for the idea, and a key reason I ran with this.
We incorporated that year , but didn’t started selling product until Q2 of 2012.
We started with one product in several stores, until early 2013 when we launched new products into Whole Foods and the natural food channel.
So in about three years, we went from one product in 6-10 stores to 4 products in 2,500 stores.
Can you describe how you achieved that kind of growth?
We started with Whole Foods stores in the Northeast – RI, CT, and MA.
We also established a large contingent of “mom and pop” stores condensed in Manhattan – that was the easiest place to do big sales trips. Over time, we shifted our mentality toward larger retailers. It’s a bigger risk if it isn’t successful, but it’s simpler to deal with fewer, bigger players – and the payoff is huge if it works.
We parlayed that initial success into contracts with Target, Buy Buy Baby, and most recently CVS. As a matter of fact, we’re excited to share that Premama was selected as an anchor product for CVS’ new pre-natal sections. That adds another 2300 stores into our fold.
Tell us about your marketing approach.
We send thousands of samples. We get customers to our website, have them enter their due date, where they live, their e-mail, and send them a sample. Sampling has a very strong conversion rate: 70% of people who try our product turn into customers or intend to buy.
On our fertility product, there’s an insert on our pre-natal. Inside our pre-natal product, there’s an insert on our lactation product. We’re always trying to upsell customers on the next step in their pregnancy journey.
In terms of tools, we use Infusionsoft to help us push out custom messaging. We do some online Ad Words, but the biggest thing we do is a lot of partnering: Outreach through mom blogs, PR, etc.
A big thing for us is doctors. We use a company that has a network of hundreds of thousands of doctors. We overlap their list of doctors with our list of stores, send nearby doctors our info, samples, etc.
What’s the end goal for you?
The initial goal was to create a company to sell – the serial entrepreneur approach – but things can always change.
Bayer and Pfizer both have pre-natal supplements in the market, but would rather wait to see if powder can hit $10m in sales. At that point, they would consider acquiring us, put their marketing machine behind it, and scale it even further.
How do you delegate the work?
There are just two of us full-time: myself and Jamie Schapiro. And it’s a lot.
The two of us handle basically everything: Our sales guys, mom bloggers, etc. are all outsourced parties. We run weekly calls, and just do whatever it takes to stay on top of things. We have a designer out of New Jersey and web developer out of Boston who we use as needed.
Props to them – the design is fantastic.
It is. A lot of that comes from Jamie [Schapiro] being in the business for 20 years. Our designer (also named Jamie), is also fantastic. We went through tons of iterations to get things just the way we want.
What are your biggest lessons learned on this journey so far?
The two biggest things I’m conscious of at all times are 1) making sure people know about us, and 2) making sure we have enough capital. Those two things go hand in hand.
You can’t count on anyone to give you money, and you can never expect the money to come as soon as you’ve been led to believe. I’ve had an investor sign an agreement for a $500k investment, only to try and renege the terms a month later when he knew he had leverage on us.
In a perfect world, a business would have an unlimited line of credit/investment that they could constantly tap as they proved their success and hit benchmarks – that would save entrepreneurs a lot of time and headache. Thankfully, I found Cherrystone and other supportive groups who are helping us to get the capital we need as we grow.
How do you adapt?
Never get too excited about anything and never get too down about anything. When problems arise, just figure out the quickest way to solve it – nothing is the end of the world.
It’s really just about keeping your cool in both senses. You can’t jump over the moon if you close a big deal, and you can’t sink into despair when things fall through.
To learn about Premama and their industry-changing projects, visit drinkpremama.com.