If you’re looking for instant success, the world of startups might not be for you. When you have an idea that you want to make into a reality, it will take time and a healthy dose of persistence.
In this edition of Venture unscripted., City Innovations CEO, Josh Barker, sat down with Todd Kuslikis, a health and fitness entrepreneur with plenty of advice to share with startups just kicking off their journey.
Listen to the podcast video below or keep scrolling to read the podcast recap.
Stretching Into Something New
Todd got his start in health and fitness through a massage and stretching manual for Blue Heron Academy in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The photographer created some cool transitions between the different stretches and poses — then Todd turned them into gifs. They got hundreds of thousands of views on his first website years ago. It was at that moment when Todd realized the power of the Internet.
Fast forward and Todd received a Masters in Public Administration, then started a successful, intentional, website called A Shot of Adrenaline. Todd put his prior gif success to the test again and coupled that with YouTube videos. It was unique content that people hadn’t seen before and it picked up traction.
From there, he got into SEO and content writing, having penned over 500 blog articles for his site and getting up to 4,000 visitors a day. That’s when he started to scale.
The lesson he took away from it all? The element of novelty. It comes down to doing the research, creating the content, and figuring out how to best monetize it.
Taking a Leap of Faith
After two and a half years of content creation, Todd was ready to quit. Despite all the traction, he wasn’t generating a ton of revenue. But he also wasn’t ready to go back to a standard 9-5.
So he called up a connection from a previous startup, looking to answer the golden question: How do you make money online?
This opened the door to a world of Internet work — everything from copywriting to affiliate programs, email marketing, direct response, and so much more.
Todd got creative and pulled together his passion for health and fitness to share with a broader audience. He created several bundle sales with fitness experts to contribute to an ebook, create a sales page, and had all of the experts promote it. It was this project that made Todd realize that content marketing was where he wanted to focus his efforts.
“It took two and a half years, but with any business, you’re not going to see instant success,” Todd explained. “It takes persistence and continual learning.”
Three and a half years later, Todd took the leap to explore this pathway full-time. With his first big launch, he made around $400,000 in total revenue with almost 10,000 customers on the list.
And while that sounds like a big success, Todd realized quickly after crunching some numbers, that he wasn’t making as much money as he did in his corporate position. He needed a plan for consistent results and revenue growth.
Thankfully, Todd had customer data that he used to inform his decisions, promotions, and offerings. He learned that “once a buyer, always a buyer.” If a customer bought one thing, they’ll buy other things as long as he kept up communication and built a relationship.
A Major Transition
Once he had the ball rolling through affiliate marketing, coaching bundles, and body weight workout guides, he focused on building up a team around Shot of Adrenaline and transitioning that venture from Michigan to Silicon Valley.
At the time, Shot of Adrenaline was something novel within the health and fitness world. But Todd was looking into doing an online fitness video platform, much like Netflix or Twitch, but for fitness. So he presented the idea to his long-time friend, Josh Barker, who was the Director of Innovation KPMG at the time. They worked together to build Shot of Adrenaline together.
It grew with over a hundred trainers on the app, but there were technology challenges, especially in getting the trainers set up in a professional manner. However, the biggest reason Todd thinks Shot of Adrenaline didn’t take off is because it wasn’t convenient.
“Yes, people could workout from home, but if they had a kid or a dog just threw up on the carpet and their workout was starting and their camera needed to be one, it just didn’t work for everything,” he explained.
So, his team pivoted. Through market research and customer feedback, he tried to determine what the better solution would be. He tested things using minimal viable products — and with that data, he informed the next steps on how to rebuild.
Solving the Right Problem
If they were going to take their company to the next level, Todd realized that he needed to solve their problems in a unique way that the marketplace hadn’t really seen before. He peeled back layer after layer of Shots of Adrenaline and realized that they had initial traction but could gamify it more.
Soon, Todd had elements of accountability and competition, which boosted engagement rates off the charts. More and more teams of users joined — it was intense.
Initially, he and his team were doing everything manually. But this caused them to run into burnout. After a break, Todd reassessed what the next step would be. It was time to figure out how to incorporate automation, specifically over text. But when hit with texting thresholds and other limitations, Todd realized a good lesson. He needed to solve the right problem at the right time — there was a laundry list of issues.
Todd learned that he would need to prioritize the problems in order to determine what needed to be figured out first to ensure people remained engaged, then scale from there. It was important that he figure out how to burn out less, track his learnings, move on to the next set of problems, and repeat the process.
The other big question for Todd was: Can I solve the right problem for free? That meant figuring out who would do the work in the most cost-effective way, what was the best technology, and above all, never forgetting the value he was providing to the marketplace — that was supposed to be front and center.
Top Takeaways for Entrepreneurs
After three years of Shots of Adrenaline, Todd learned a lot and had plenty of advice for other entrepreneurs.
First, don’t get discouraged when you continually face challenges. You may find something absolutely revolutionary or even magical, and you’ll end up with even more roadblocks. Which can feel worse than not finding anything at all — but Todd says that’s how growth works.
Second, most startups won’t make it big the day they launch.
“Oftentimes it’s a fallacy or farce thinking,” Todd explained. “Things do take time to start and get traction. If you look at the longtime horizon of a successful startup, they could have been beating their head against the wall for two years.”
The other major takeaway from Todd? Hindsight is always 20/20, but you can’t live your life that way. You have to continually move forward, push through the difficult times, and know when it’s time to quit. The entrepreneur journey is never a straight line.
“You always learn things and your greatest failures can be your greatest lessons, which you can carry into other startups and achieve more success,” Todd said.
Want to learn more? Listen to the full podcast below to hear more about Todd’s journey through entrepreneurship and his perspective on building a startup. You can keep tabs on Todd by connecting with him on LinkedIn.
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