Nike’s Phil Knight and GoDaddy’s Bob Parsons are notable examples of accountants who based their very own companies. Chris Cage did it, too, after leaving his price accounting job and touring the world.
He instructed me, “I used to be an accountant for a couple of yr and a half after school. I give up my job and traveled for 2 years — lots of journey journey, mountain climbing, bicycling, that form of factor. And after I got here again, I used to be considering, what are my choices to earn a living?”
He settled on entrepreneurship. Impressed by his mountain climbing and bicycling experiences, Cage began Greenbelly, a maker of high-nutrition backpacking meals, in 2014 from his mom’s kitchen. Quick-forward to 2021, and the enterprise is prospering.
He and I lately mentioned his journey. Our whole audio conversion is embedded under. The transcript that follows is edited for readability and size.
Eric Bandholz: Inform us about Greenbelly.
Chris Cage: We make and promote backpacking meals, primarily two massive, fats, fluffy bars in a single pouch that present 650 energy. I began engaged on the enterprise in March 2014 and launched it in March 2015 with a $19,000 Kickstarter marketing campaign.
With out going too far again, I majored in accounting. I used to be an accountant for a couple of yr and a half after school. I give up my job and traveled for 2 years — lots of journey journey, mountain climbing, bicycling, that form of factor. And after I got here again, I used to be considering, what are my choices to earn a living?
The principle choices have been to return to accounting or begin a enterprise. Beginning a enterprise appeared too good to be true. It might examine all my packing containers. I may earn a living, stay the place I wished, and work in an business I used to be enthusiastic about. That’s finally the trail I went down. I used to be about 25 then.
Early on, I lived in my guardian’s basement and used my mother’s kitchen to make the merchandise. The Kickstarter marketing campaign allowed me to maneuver out.
In hindsight, $19,000 was peanuts to get the enterprise going. However I used to be tremendous stoked to make it work. I wished that life.
Bandholz: So that you have been making the bars out of your mother’s kitchen. Did that meet regulatory necessities?
Cage: No. There have been Cottage Meals legal guidelines on the time that diverse from state to state. These legal guidelines are designed for a grandma who desires to promote her pies on the nook, so to talk. In Georgia, the place I lived, it was $50,000 in income. As quickly as you hit $50,000 in annual income you have been topic to oversight by the U.S. Meals and Drug Administration, which meant your kitchen needed to be as much as code.
So I used to be in that transitional interval after I made meals out of my mother’s kitchen and offered it. I couldn’t do this ceaselessly.
Bandholz: Didn’t you may have the $19,000 from Kickstarter?
Cage: That got here in 2015. In March 2014 I used to be recent off two years of journey, which included a six-month hike on the Appalachian Path and a three-month bicycle journey down the size of New Zealand. I burned lots of energy in each of these. That’s the place the concept for a high-calorie meals product got here from. I completed all of that journey on the finish of 2013.
So in early 2014, I’m sitting at my dad and mom’ home making an attempt to determine what to do with my life. I began engaged on Greenbelly then — an all-natural meals product for outside lovers burning 5,000 energy a day.
My first thought was a goo — peanut butter, honey, nuts, who is aware of what else. I experimented in my mother’s kitchen, mixing stuff. After a few days I noticed, “That is simply junk, a horrible taste, dangerous composition, all the pieces.”
So I began transitioning in the direction of a bar. I shortly realized that making a bar is sophisticated. A fundamental bar is easy. However a bar that I wished with excessive vitamin, good style, shelf-stable — that’s way more tough.
I used to be over my head. I had no meals background. So I began contacting nutritionists, cooks, anyone I knew which may know one thing about meals. And ultimately, I stumbled on the career of meals scientists, those that make and develop meals merchandise. So, I interviewed a couple of meals scientists and began working with one.
He was in New York and offered the framework for what I used to be contemplating: excessive vitamin, all-natural components, two bars. And we talked via lots of issues by way of what the product was going to be. Then we began to work.
That was March 2014. It took a couple of months to excellent a product — numerous samples backwards and forwards via the mail, numerous iterations. I ended up taking a bunch of samples to a mountain climbing competition, handing out stuff totally free, making an attempt to get suggestions. Is it too salty? What’s the feel like?
So by late summer time 2014, I used to be 90% there with a product. I then labored on getting a couple of prospects.
I despatched many samples to mountain climbing bloggers. That generated a couple of articles and a trickle of gross sales, however not at all was it a viable enterprise to allow me to maneuver out of my dad and mom’ home. So I began eager about launching the Kickstarter marketing campaign. If I may elevate sufficient cash to outsource the manufacturing and get me out of my mother’s kitchen, that might be the inexperienced gentle second. I’d run with it from there.
Bandholz: How lengthy did it take to shut the Kickstarter and ship the merchandise?
Cage: The Kickstarter resulted in April 2015. I had all orders shipped by July or August. Throughout that point, I looked for a facility to make the meals.
I’d name potential distributors and ask, “Do you need to fulfill a $20,000 bar order?” And they’d reply with, like, “Who’re you?” I referred to as possibly 100 potential meals producers, looking for the correct match. Happily, I discovered one. We’re nonetheless with them.
Bandholz: Quick ahead to at this time. You’re doing effectively. You’ve discovered a stability in enterprise and life. How have you ever maintained your sanity whereas constructing the corporate?
Cage: It’s a superb query. Within the first couple of years, I questioned the viability of the enterprise.
Bandholz: You’re a 100% proprietor, proper?
Cage: Sure. Within the early days, location independence was necessary. I lived in an condominium in Thailand for $120 a month. I used to be dwelling the place I wished, surrounded by folks I valued, and doing actions that I loved. So the entire fundamentals have been there.
Then a few years later, the enterprise turned viable.
Bandholz: You had made it.
Cage: I made it. As soon as that occurred, loads modified in my private life. A lot much less stress. I used to be nonetheless working common hours, if not longer. However I used to be having fun with my life extra — happening holidays, pursuing hobbies. I took drum classes in Thailand. So it was a enjoyable journey. I’m lucky.
Bandholz: How lengthy have been you in Thailand?
Cage: Since 2015, I’ve spent about two and a half years there, though in numerous intervals — three to 6 months at a time. I used to be additionally in Spain for eight months and Guatemala for 3 months, all with vacationer visas.
Bandholz: Let’s speak about your advertising technique.
Cage: Initially, I focused long-distance thru-hikers, of us that spend six months mountain climbing on a path. I assumed that was my solely market alternative: folks with no cash as a result of they’re unemployed for six months. You instructed me again then, “What are you speaking about? Have you ever heard of Patagonia?” I bear in mind considering, “That’s an amazing level. Patagonia is for rich, outdoorsy folks.”
So I elevated my costs early on. Greenbelly wouldn’t be right here had I not carried out that. My advertising on the time was public relations outreach — a bunch of mountain climbing bloggers. Then I began reaching out to greater retailers, magazines, similar to Backpacker and numerous bicycling magazines. Extra conventional retailers. Then content material advertising took off.
I began writing backpacking articles and posting them on our website. They addressed tricks to lighten your weight, issues like that. We obtained site visitors from these articles. From there, I began understanding that I may optimize natural search rankings with a method behind what I’m writing.
To this present day, a giant a part of buyer acquisition is site visitors to our weblog. We went from a couple of thousand guests a month to tons of of hundreds.
Bandholz: Is most of your income is out of your web site? Do you additionally promote on Amazon?
Cage: Fortunately, Amazon just isn’t the primary income driver, but it surely continues to be necessary for higher or worse. Ideally, the good thing about being on Amazon is discoverability. Individuals discover out about Greenbelly as a result of we’re on that platform. If that’s the case, I’m stoked to be on Amazon, however I don’t know what number of truly do this.
Anyway, content material advertising is extra necessary for us than Amazon. Joe Rogan helped, too — a very nice explosion.
Bandholz: How so?
Cage: I used to be on his present in 2017. It happened due to a PR outreach. Joe Rogan listened to a searching podcast I had been on. He ordered some Greenbelly merchandise.
Bandholz: He was a buyer. That’s loopy.
Cage: Sure. Ultimately, he talked about us a number of occasions on his present. Prospects instructed us about seeing it. So I reached out to Joe. Ultimately, in 2017, I used to be a visitor on the present. It gave us a pleasant enhance for certain.
Bandholz: The place can folks study extra about you, attain out, or purchase your merchandise?