Automation drives efficiency.
Many businesses are refining their automation strategies in order to lower costs, save time and remain competitive.
Our guest today, Adam Callinan has successfully automated his business.
Adam is the founder of BottleKeeper, a stainless steel container that is insulated to keep your beer colder for longer.
In this Q&A, Adam discusses how automation allows his business to run from anywhere in the world with just an internet connection, how he achieved success with his referral program, how his company reached the 8-figure mark in 3.5 years and much more.
Q: Why don't you tell us about who you are, and what you do?
A: I spend most of my time, the vast majority of my time now, building BottleKeeper, which is sort of a side project gone mad.
Three years ago it was the opposite. I was spending a lot more time doing investing. Priorities change, I guess. I spend most of my time doing that, traveling with my wife, and living life.
Q: Awesome. Great. We met at a dinner, and you had this crazy story. Maybe you can spend two, three minutes or so just talking about your story and how you got to where you are.
A: Historically I was in the medical space. I got a crazy science degree because I wanted to be a doctor my whole life, but decided coming out of school at 35 with half a million dollars in debt didn't sound that fun when you're 21 years old, anymore.
So I went into a device startup. I wasn't a founder, but was the first sales person, so I got to build the company down and expand it.
I learnt over a decade the difficulties and the challenges in building companies that are very logistically heavy. It was really good experience, but it was really challenging.
You couldn't get away from it, so to speak. If I wanted to go and take a month and travel the world, things would fail. Part of that is maybe how it was set up, but part of it was just what goes with a business that's built like that. We had started another company that I had sold out in 2013, and that was technology-based.
The timing was unique because I was now looking for something fun to do. When we started that, I vowed to never build a big, wide company again.
I've kind of taken it in the polar opposite direction, which certainly has its pitfalls, but as it stands now we're three and a half years into the business, doing eight figures in revenue, and we have zero employees.
It's super automated. It's very efficient. It gives us the capacity to grow the company with our own money. We didn't have to raise money and have never raised any debt or anything.
It allows us a lot of freedom. It basically is a company that can be run from anywhere in the world that we have an internet connection.
Q: Got it. Okay, awesome. I'm curious to know what kind of systems or processes do you have in place to make the machine function like it's functioning right now?
A: There are a lot.
It's the kind of thing, when we were doing $2,000 a day you didn't need to have big, robust systems in place and support functions with hundreds of pre-written macros that other people can execute in other parts of the world.
At the beginning, the company started with a WordPress website and a theme with basically a digital management system and a drag and drop editor, because I'm not historically a trained programmer.
We weren't going to go spend the money to have somebody custom-build a website, so you kind of hack it together and just figure it out as you go.
What we wanted to do when we started the company was make sure that people would actually buy this product, before we went and spent a bunch of time and money building it.
We leveraged crowd funding, which is an unbelievably valuable tool. Not just for raising money if you need to do that, but for proving concepts.
Q: How much did you guys raise?
A: We raised about $15,000, we were trying to raise $5,000. Admittedly, at the beginning of the company, my cousin and partner had a lot more faith in the product than I did. I thought it was a great product, and I loved it and used it myself, but I wasn't convinced early on that someone would pay $20 or $25 for it.
If someone would only pay $10 for it, it's not a functional business model. Even if somebody would only pay $15 for it, it's much less of a functional business model. The crowdfunding was a huge eye-opener for me that we had something that was more than just a novelty item that you'd see on the shelf at Spencer's.
Q: How long did it take you guys from inception to get to the eight figure mark?
A: We shipped our first product in January of 2014. That first year we did six figures. In 2015, we did seven. This year, we're into eight.
Q: I know we were talking at dinner about what was one of the levers that helped you get there. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
A: Yeah, absolutely. You look historically back at the company or the concept and crowdfunding was step one.
We sold about 1,000 units in five or six countries.
That paid for the product, although it wasn't overly expensive to start. Looking at 2014, once we got past that, the reality quickly became that, one, I had no idea what I was doing, and two, selling 1,000 units is a lot.
It sounds great starting up, but it's not a lot. You're not building a business off of basically three or four hundred customers.
We kind of fumbled around for maybe seven or eight months, played with Facebook advertising and AdWords, Twitter advertising, all the normal things that people go and try to do and figure out.
What I figured out pretty quickly was with this product, is you have to see it in action. It's a visual product. I had basically been using still images because at the time that's all you could do with Facebook.
In August of 2014, Facebook launched their video platform. I took an off the shelf camera and shot a video of the BottleKeeper in action, and the company changed literally overnight.
It went from 2 or 3 grand a month in sales, to 10 in September, to 25 in October, to 40 in November, and 60 in the first two weeks in December, where we promptly ran out of product, December 5th – Which is amazing!
Q: Love it, okay. I was doing a little research before this. You talked a little bit about the referral program, and apparently that worked well for you. Can you talk about that a little bit?
A: One of the things that we did and figured out early on is that you have to be kind of ridiculous about your referral program.
If you want it to be successful, you have to give your consumers a reason to basically go above and beyond them just casually sharing it to aggressively sharing it because they want to get something out of it.
For us, that was the word “free.”
BottleKeeper retails on our site for $22, the main 12 oz. standard size.
At first, it was refer a friend get $5 off, which didn't really work. Then it was refer a friend get $10 off, which didn't really work either. We then tried refer a friend get a free BottleKeeper, this went crazy and is still, to this day, a huge part of our sales and return purchases.
Q: What else is working really well for you, in terms of customer acquisition today?
A: Pinterest works really well for us.
Surprisingly, for us, our highest converting audience is not 22 year old college males. That's sort of the gut response anytime somebody says: “Oh my gosh, you should sell these at fraternities. That would be amazing!”
The reality is, what college kids do you know that are:
- Drinking beer from bottles?
- Spending $22 to keep a beer cold?
It's not many of them!
Our highest converting audience is actually women between the ages of 35 and 60. Pinterest, being a very female-dominant platform, works fantastically well for us.
Q: Makes sense. I think we've talked about the reason a little bit, and I thought it was funny. Why is it 35-60 females?
A: The age is because of income — it's a huge assumption, but that's what I believe it is.
Again, spending $22 plus shipping or with accessories or whatnot, on keeping a beer cold is certainly an expendable income type purchase. That's the age part of it.
The female part of it is kind of funny. One of the main reasons I think is because women just naturally have more of a tendency to buy things online, and we're basically exclusive to direct consumer.
Secondly, it's a good gift item. What happens is, they'll come in and buy one for themselves, and one for their husband or one for themselves and one for their boyfriend, son, or whatever.
It actually takes our average purchase to a little more than 2 units per order.
Q: One other aspect I think is important to talk about is: when you have the issue of people that see something that's working, and they start ripping off of you, what can you do? How do you deal with that?
A: Quite frankly, I struggle to deal with it — not legally, but emotionally.
You create something that didn't previously exist and you put everything you have into it. You bleed and you sweat and you have all the tears and all the difficulties it is to have some amount of success. You get there, and then dozens of other people just literally copy it and rip it off.
Legally speaking, it depends what you have in intellectual property. We have five patents pending, one of which is very, very close to being finished. The reality of that is a lot of it depends on what you have the capacity to spend to defend and protect yourself.
We will be exceptionally aggressive in defending and protecting what we've built the second one of those five patents comes to fruition. The hard part is until you have that, there's nothing you can do.
You can protect your trademarks. We're sending out cease and desists on a weekly basis now, where people are calling the fake knockoff product BottleKeeper, which is a trademarked name.
We have that registered as a trademark, so you can't do that. We can stop those types of things, but as far as just straight knocking it off, until you have patents in place, there's not a lot you can do.
Q: What's one piece of advice you'd give to your 25-year-old self?
A: Write in a journal.
Start writing in a journal. There is a ton of information and memories that looking back at would be hugely valuable to understand my mindset at that given time. I didn't start writing in a journal actively until about three years ago. That's a huge regret, that I didn't do that earlier.
I have used a couple of different sort of tool-type journals. I found myself really just kind of free-writing in those tool journals. I mean, I have a little bit of a process that I do now, but I'm not really following an instruction, so to speak.
Q: All right, let's go back to your team a little bit. What's one big change you've made in the last year that's impacted your business in a big way?
A: One of the main changes is: me not controlling everything, and giving up responsibilities.
How we've been able to do that without hiring people, is by hiring companies and entities that have an expertise in that given space.
For example: I don't manage our Facebook ads anymore. I turned it over to a company that just does Facebook.
That freed up a tremendous amount of my time to go do other things and has been very effective. There's a number of those types of things that I've given up.
Q: What's one must read book you'd recommend to everyone?
A: How to Win Friends and Influence People.
It's a book written by Dale Carnegie back in the last 1800s on leadership. It holds absolutely true to every interaction you have in your life.
I'll paraphrase Dwight Eisenhower: leadership is getting somebody to do something that you want them to do, by getting them to want to do it.
We're all in experiences every single day where you're dealing with people, where you're trying to get them to do something, but you need to get them to do it because they want to do it not just because you're forcing them to do it.
Q: This has been fantastic. What's the best way for our people to find you online?
A: Gosh, that's a good question. I don't spend a ton of time on Twitter. All of my Instagram and Facebook accounts are done through BottleKeeper. How about just email me? [email protected].