Ashley Drummonds is the Founder of ABS Pancakes, gluten-free pancakes with 26 grams of protein, 8 net carbs, and under 200 calories per 4 pancakes.
On this podcast, you’ll learn how she started by selling digital products and then transitioned into physical products, and the story of the Shark Tank deal that skyrocketed her sales.
In this episode, we discuss:
Why you might want to start with a physical product instead of a digital product for your first business.
How this entrepreneur was able to start a business simply through hashtags on Instagram.
How to connect with influencers and get them to work with you to cross-promote.
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Recommended: The Power of Broke (book), Inspired and Unstoppable (book)
Felix: In this episode, you’ll learn why you might want to start with a physical product instead of a digital product for your first business, how this entrepreneur was able to start a business simply through hashtags on Instagram, and how to connect with influencers and get them to work with you to cross promote your products. Today, I’m joined by Ashley Drummonds from abspancakes.com. It’s A-B-S-P-A-N-C-A-K-E-S.com. Abs Pancakes sells protein pancakes with 26 grams of protein, 8 nut carbs, gluten-free, and all under 200 calories for 4 pancakes. It was started in 2014 and based out of Tampa, Florida. Welcome, Ashley.
Ashley: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.
Felix: I’m excited to have you on, too. Tell us a little bit more about your store. What are these pancakes? How did you come up with them? What kind of, I guess … Just tell us the story about how you got started.
Ashley: That’s always an interesting story because everybody always asks, “Did you always know that you wanted to do a pancake business?” The answer is, “No.” The last 10 years or so, I’ve been in the fitness industry. I worked as a personal trainer. I went through all the processes of working for gyms and then having independent clients, and just figuring it out, figuring it out how I wanted to have a business and being self-employed, and about 5 years into that, I was introduced to somebody named Craig Ballantyne who is a genius when it comes to digital products for the fitness industry, and he started talking about the idea of being an online personal trainer, which made no sense to me. I didn’t understand it.
However, the one point of no longer trading time for money really hit home with me, so I, back in 2012, just dove right in and read every book, every article I could possibly find and I tried out the digital space, and I didn’t love it. I felt like I was missing the connection. I felt like sales were going out and I didn’t even know who was buying stuff. There’s a point, a turning point, where I wanted to get out of personal training, but I still loved helping people with their nutrition, with their fitness and doing something positive. Ironically, every day I was making a protein pancake that I ate for myself. Literally, it was a homemade recipe. I was trying to figure out something that was gluten-free. At the time, I was sticking to a low-carb diet that was very high protein with natural fats.
I was making it and really soul searching, like what is my big idea. What is this thing that I’m going to do that’s going to make a difference, but also give me control of my time and make the money that I want to make? I woke up one morning and was making my recipe and literally was like, “Oh my gosh, I wonder if I put this and packaged it, would anybody buy it? Or am I the only crazy person who eats protein pancakes?” I started just telling personal training clients about it that I had at the time because one of the biggest struggles people have is when they go on a low-carb diet or a gluten-free diet, the first thing that goes is anything that even tastes like bread or dough or carbs. It’s usually egg whites and vegetables and a lot of food that’s very bland for people.
My clients were asking me, “Hey, what do you eat for breakfast? I can’t do anymore shakes or anymore egg whites.” I just casually was like, “Hey, I’ll make this up for you and give it to you. You can try it. It’s a protein pancake that I eat every single day and it helps me stick to my nutrition without feeling like I’m dieting or anything like that.” I started giving it out for free to clients, and then one person heard about it through somebody else and asked me how much they owed me for giving them a package and that the turning point where I realized this could actually be a product and something that I can actually sell, so that’s where the idea came from.
Felix: I heard how this builds up organically for you where you just had your own itch to scratch, which I think is a common, not necessarily common, but a definitely well-trodden path where you have your own itch to scratch. You started building products for yourself and then you started putting out to the marketplace, not with the intent to start a business, but just to help others out. Then, all of a sudden a business is born. Before we get a little more deeper into that, you mentioned something earlier, which I don’t think a lot of entrepreneurs on this podcast have talked about, which is that you got your start in the entrepreneurship world by starting with digital products.
You said you didn’t like it because there wasn’t that personal touch to it. You couldn’t really see your customer of the day, but did you have any success going in that direction initially starting your training and selling your own digital products?
Ashley: Yeah, absolutely. I actually still do digital products. I still do women’s fitness and nail cleaning and a lot of strength training stuff for women and have a product called flatabsforwomen.com, which is for taking women through, really inside out journey through fitness, just 12 weeks, but it’s more about you can’t just take a diet or take some weight loss pill and think that that’s going to fix you. It really focuses a lot more on the mentality, your mindset, the law of attraction.
It’s a lot deeper than a typical workout program, but when I first got into it, I’m not sure if a lot of people listening or even yourself are familiar with some of the best digital marketers, like Dan Kennedy, who even started the whole craziness, but the whole form with that type of philosophy is you do the long sales copy, so you tell the story, you emotionally connect and engage with your reader or your potential customer, and then you hit their pain point, so talking about, “I can understand how you feel the press.” This would be for the fitness industry and just not liking what you see in the mirror and a lot of stuff like that, and I didn’t really connect with it because that’s not my approach.
My approach is not to emotionally connect with a customer and then manipulate that emotion into having buy, so I got out of it just because I felt like so much of it was just numbers. I got into business, into what I do now, because I truly have a passion for helping people, and with those specific digital products at the time, it was just a lot of numbers and how many sales did you get today and how this affiliate mail out for you and then hopefully you start funneling in through another sales program. It just completely, not demoralized, but took away that there’s a person behind each one of those sales, so I had a lot of success with it and then decided it no longer felt right for me, but once I started the pancakes, a lot of people started asking for recipes. They started asking if there was a meal plan that goes with this so they can learn how to put the pancakes with the rest of their day and what else they should eat.
From that, I’ve created different digital products that have done very well and continue to do well just because now there’s more of a purpose behind it other than just selling a bunch of stuff and making money off of it.
Felix: I have heard of Dan Kennedy and that entire copyrighting world that you’re talking about. I’ve seen that, too. It’s an effective world once you learn the trade, I guess, but it is a dark world, but it’s also eye opening to see how … Again, I’m at a loss of words, too, but manipulative it can get where you are understanding the actual emotions of your customers and then twisting and pouring salt into that wound until they’re ready to buy your solution, and I think that that’s definitely in a person I’ve seen, and I can see how it becomes dehumanizing, like you were saying, because you are no longer looking at them, like let me help this person. You start approaching it as how can I extract the most profit? How can I extract the most revenue from this thing over here?
This whole numbers game of entrepreneurship that we were talking about, how did you transition away from it? Was it an immediate cutoff? You don’t want to be in this world anymore, so you just cut off the business and then started something else. Or did you transition out of it? What was that process like?
Ashley: I didn’t just cut it off. I just stopped promoting it. I stopped the email broadcast. I stopped the social media posts. I wasn’t doing a ton of it because I was very new to it. Just like every entrepreneur, I had no idea what I was doing. I was just figuring it out as I went, so instead of pushing something that didn’t feel right for me every time I pushed it, I just stopped, and at this time, I wasn’t full time into the online world, so I still was working with individual training clients. I was still coaching women, so I just took it as like, all right, maybe this whole online world’s not for me. I’m going to go back to doing my personal training sessions, but even then, I think it took 6 months.
I went back to the personal training and then it was like that itch, that pulling came back up of nope, there’s something bigger I want to do. Not that that’s not a huge thing. You’re not helping a ton of people, but that same feeling that even got me into the online world came back up, and then that’s when I soul searched a little bit more. I know what I don’t want to do. However, I’m trying to figure out what the next step is and what you can create in online businesses that fits all these other purposes behind helping people and nutrition and still making the revenue that I wanted to.
Felix: I want to talk a little bit about this pull that you’re talking about. People call it the muse, this drive within a lot of entrepreneurs that even if they wanted to, they can’t get away from the idea of owning their own business, starting their own business. Was it because your eyes were opened to the world of not having to trade time for money? What was it that pulled you back into the online world, eCommerce world, not necessarily away from, but at least took up some of your attention away from what you were doing with the offline clients?
Ashley: I honestly think that I was just not satisfied when I had this huge vision and this huge goal and idea and dream of helping thousands of people and waking up every day and helping maybe five people at a time just felt so soul crushing. I kept thinking I’m on stage, helping millions. You do vision boards. You do affirmations. You do all of these positive thought processes, and then reality hits and you’ve got three clients for the day and that’s all you affected, so part of it was my reality was not reflecting this grand vision that I had in my mind really, and it’s not so much that I knew anybody.
In all honesty, I had no friends who were entrepreneurs. I wasn’t dating anybody that was an entrepreneur. It was just something that I always knew. I wanted to be able to have complete control over how much time I work or how little time I work, but I also knew I wanted to help people on a massive scale and not just with one on one sessions all the time, which I still do one on one stuff here and there with business consultations and whatnot, but it’s different. It feels more like planting a seed and helping them, then help thousands of people, as opposed to just one on one, so as far as having my eyes opened, my dad, he was an entrepreneur and gave us a very comfortable lifestyle, but it was never really, I guess, taught or really told, like, “Hey, this is how you live in abundance and have happiness and have all those things you want.”
It was just an expected way of life, and I guess seeing a little bit of that growing up really made me realize that so many options are available with living your dreams, with having a lifestyle you want, having the freedom to travel whenever you want, and I think with anybody, once you get a little bit of taste of this other world or this idea that you think exists, it’s very hard to go back, and I think that’s what happened. When I tried to go back to one on one personal training, but I already knew that it is possible to make money online, it’s hard to go back to anything else when I knew that this whole other world existed.
Felix: Everything that starts out like an opportunity, once you start getting exposed to it, you start thinking about all the business opportunities that are possible when you have the ability to scale up and reach way more people online. Other than your father, you mentioned that you had no friends that were entrepreneurs. You weren’t surrounded by other folks that were entrepreneurs. I hear this all the time, too, and it’s a very lonely journey being an entrepreneur. You’re the one that’s saying you can’t go out and party or you can’t do this, you can’t do that because there’s focus on growing your business and no one else really understands that unless they, like you were saying, have your eyes to this other world.
How do you not let this wear on you over time beyond this journey yourself? Maybe it’s different for you today, but at the very beginning, how did you not make sure that you weren’t being worn out by this lonely path?
Ashley: Oh my gosh. It’s so interesting that you’re asking this because I just read an article a couple days ago about how entrepreneurs struggle with being lonely sometimes, because you do. You create this little island for yourself and you don’t even realize it until you get a break to look around and realize that it is just you. I struggled with it a lot, probably six months into the business just because I went all in.
I started the business. Then I decided I wanted to move to California, and then I decided I was going to move out there by myself and didn’t know anybody, didn’t have any family, and trying to build this, but I think in the beginning, it’s a little bit easier because you’re so much in the startup grind, and there’s such an endless task list for you to do that even the loneliness that you do feel from time to time, it’s not as bad just because you have so much that can easily occupy your mind, so, like you mentioned, whenever you’re sitting there on a Friday night, and if you have a roommate or your friends or whoever are all going out at 10 o’clock at night, and all you’re thinking about is, “Well, I can do 2 more hours of work and then I can get up at 5 or 6 am the next day and get more work done.”
That is really hard because there’s that whole feeling of missing out on being young or even having a social life when everybody else is doing it, but nobody else understands, so every now and then, that does come up now. Living here in Tampa, I have a ton of connections and family and friends because I’m from here, but there are days where I get so caught up working from home and something that I’m doing, and then 4 hours will go by and I realize, “Oh, wow, I haven’t even stepped outside or talked to anybody today. Maybe I should go step into the real world for a second.” Usually, if I get too caught up with it or I’m really feeling isolated, I either go to the gym because there’s always people at the gym and I’ll just clear my head with a workout or talk to other people that are there.
I also listen to a ton of podcasts like this because it makes me feel connected, so even I’m not on the phone with whoever you’re interviewing or anybody else is interviewing, I still feel like I’m a part of that conversation, so that helps me a lot with feeling connected. Getting outside takes a ton of weight off of me, and then I try to stay really active in a lot of the Facebook groups that are online for entrepreneurs and just reaching out, asking questions, and then hearing, too. Even this conversation you and I are having here, that other entrepreneurs deal with the same thing, I think immediately helps you feel better about it because you realize not only are you going through it, but there’s 5 million other people that also are building a business and feeling the exact same way.
Felix: I think it’s an important topic that has only recently come up about the mental health side of being an entrepreneur. It was never talked about previously because I think for a long time, being an entrepreneur or being a business owner was about the grind, who can push through, who can sacrifice the most sleep, the most social life, the most fun for the building of business, for the profits, and it was always that focus, but then the mental health side was seen as a weakness. How you felt lonely, you felt discouraged, you weren’t cut out to be an entrepreneur. It’s called being human. Those feelings are going to become a part of your life, and you can’t just ignore them. You should deal with them.
I think work starts to become comfortable because work is predictable, and I think Casey Neistat said something about how, that’s the YouTuber and the entrepreneur, said something about how work will never betray you because you put in the work and you get something back in return. It doesn’t have a mind of its own like humans do, which sounds so crazy to talk about, but I think the point is that the loneliness, the mental health side is definitely an important aspect and you really do got to get out there in the community, whether it means online or out in your own community and trying to connect with other people that are thinking like you because it’s hard to communicate how you feel and for other people to understand how you feel if they’re not on this journey or haven’t been on this journey, so I think it’s an important point.
Ashley: One of the things I was going to say is I’m sure a lot of entrepreneurs have read this, and I’m almost 100% positive you’ve read this, but The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, he even has an entire chapter dedicated to this feeling of, “Okay, now you’ve built this whole online business and you’re living the life of your dreams. You can travel. Do whatever you want. You’re eCommerce, so then why do you feel so alone and isolated and confused with life right now?” It makes me laugh because until you get to that chapter and until you go 100% online, it’s true. Your whole goal, you’ve worked so hard to build this eCommerce business so you have your freedom, you have all the time that you want and whatnot, and then you get it and then you’re like, “Aw, crap. I didn’t realize how much of my community and social interaction came from work and being around other people.”
He even talks about the importance of that and how the main thing we have to focus on as entrepreneurs, which I know we all get caught up in doing, is any down time or free time we have, we think, “Oh, I could be working on my business and I can do one more post or I could send out one more email.” It’s such a dangerous thing to do because then you start training your brain, you train your whole body, you train everything to just never stop and rest and enjoy the present moment. You end up always working towards some future goal, so that’s been something I’ve been working on the last 6 months is just because I have an extra hour at night doesn’t necessarily mean I have to put in that extra hour of work.
I created life around my business, and I think it’s important for other business owners, too, to use that time to actually go do something that’s fulfilling outside of business so that you don’t get so wrapped up in just you and your little island and always having to be moving towards your business goals, if that makes sense.
Felix: I think it goes back to this feeling that you don’t want to be lazy. You don’t want to be the reason why you’re not going to be successful, but I think it’s a short-sighted view of we start to say, “I’m going to sacrifice sleep. I’m going to sacrifice my down time just for the business,” because recharging is an actual legitimate thing that people have to go through. When you’re not just spending time on your business, when you are doing nothing at all or maybe doing something completely outside of your business, it can still benefit or actually it does benefit your business. It does benefit entrepreneurship because you have that time to recharge. You have that time to look at things from a different perspective and it all contributes to your business. You shouldn’t feel lazy just because you aren’t actively working on your business.
I think that’s a stigma that I think it needs to be broken by how you always have to hustle your face off because not only is not an enjoyable life, but it could also be detrimental to running a business because you’ll burn out and, again, at the end of the day, I think everyone that’s been on this podcast realizes that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. You don’t want to burn out.
Ashley: Life gets so much easier as soon as you see it that way instead of you have to hurry up and sprint to whatever end you’re going to get to, and then you’re like, “Oh, wait, that end may not come for 10, 50 years.” Who knows? Then you’re like, “Okay, I can take a break. I can just let the process evolve.”
Felix: The last thing I want to say about this is that I think read somewhere about the key to actually living a happy life is not about having goals and achieving the goals. Those things are important, but you also have to enjoy the process, the journey along the way because that’s 99% of the time. That 1%, when you’ve reached the finish line, is such a small part. You put so much, I guess, faith and hope in that crossing the finish line that it’s always over-hyped. Once you get there, you’re like, “Well, was it worth all of that? Have I hated the entire journey?” It usually isn’t, so I think you just have to enjoy the process and don’t burn yourself out I think is the key to all of this.
I want to get back to your very beginnings, which is about digital products and then obviously you now sell physical products. For aspiring entrepreneurs out there that are thinking about starting a business, is there one type that you recommend over the other? Digital products versus physical products. What’s been your experience?
Ashley: Yes. I wish somebody would have told me this in the beginning because I didn’t really have this mindset. I recommend physical products for a lot of reasons. Specifically, if you can come up with anything that’s a consumable good because what happens is every time somebody finishes whatever the food product is they have to reorder. It’s almost a guaranteed reorder. A lot of times whenever you’re doing digital products, in order to get another sale from that same customer, you have to create an entire new product. It’s not like they’re going to come back and buy the same eBook or the same eCourse over and over again.
They’re going to wait until you produce something even better, where the beautiful thing about the pancakes and with any other food or even, I don’t know, a toothbrush, whatever it may be, is as soon as they run out, hopefully, you’ve built a good enough connection and relationship with your customer that they’re going to come back to you over and over again and that customer becomes lifetime, so I definitely recommend physical for that reason. The other thing is, as well, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just a goal or ambition that I had. I really enjoy actually being able to hold and see something that I created as opposed to a PDF or a video and seeing other people, random strangers who I don’t even know are on the street somewhere and they’ll be like, “Oh my gosh, I know who you are. I ordered your pancakes the other day. They’re on my kitchen counter.”
That’s amazing. That’s entrepreneur proud moments right there, as opposed to, “Oh, I downloaded it and it’s on my desktop in a PDF.” Both of them are awesome. It’s just I think there’s more of a sense of accomplishment when people have your product and your brand somewhere in their home.
Felix: That’s funny. I had a previous podcast guest who I guess the listeners who had heard it by the time yours comes out, but they were talking about how they went to … They were based out in Seattle. No, I’m sorry. Portland, at the time, and were traveling to Rome, to Italy just on a vacation and saw somebody wearing their products, and it was just such an amazing moment for them because you see the reach that you have with your business.
Ashley: That’s amazing.
Felix: I guess what’s different then about the skills that are involved with selling digital products versus physical products? What are the most important skills you had to pick up once you made that transition from digital, too, to physical?
Ashley: Oh my gosh. I underestimated the difference in the work. Digital, I honestly feel like, is pretty simple because for the most part you can outsource everything. You can outsource the web development, the landing page. You can even outsource the copyrighting if you want to. You really are just writing. You’re creating the content and then you’re selling that, and then you have no real overhead expenses other than maybe the checkout process of the 5% or whatever the percentage is that you have on digital products now. Physical products, I don’t think I ever appreciated how much work went into even a tub of ice cream until I created a physical product because when you start to exist outside of the cyber world, other than just creating the imaging, the packaging, the branding.
With mine specifically, the food, it’s the formulation, it’s the nutrition label, it’s following all the regulations, the claims, everything, that there’s literally just the one package for one of the pancakes 8 different businesses in that of people that I had to hire or use in order to create that branding, where digital products you can hire somebody on Fiver to create a graphic for you, so one of the skills that I definitely had to get used to doing is just being able to manage multiple different people.
Now, I have my web guy, and these aren’t employees. These are just people that I have to use if a new product comes out or if I need, I don’t know, more products. These are just different clients that I have on hand, or not clients, vendors, I should say, that help put together each package, so there’s my web guy, who’s always making sure that Shopify is running smoothly, which it always does, and then we have the fulfillment center, which takes care of the shipping and fulfilling orders. There’s a customer service rep that helps take care of any questions, like, “Hey, how many servings come in a bag? How many scoops come in a bag?” All this crazy stuff, but then you have the label makers. You have the printers. There’s a whole other company that even supplies the bags, the little stand-up pouches that it comes in. Then there’s somebody who supplies the scoops.
There’s so much that goes into it, and I don’t think it’s necessarily just because I have a food product. I have different rules that I have to follow just because it’s a nutritional product, but just in general. Safety stuff. If you have something in a plastic bag, you got to put all kinds of safety hazards on it or whatnot, so you definitely have to get really, really good at being able to multitask and manage a lot of different little projects going on at once, like, “Hey, do you like the pink color in your brand better or the other color?” At the same time, getting an email of, “Hey, you’re 500 short in inventory even though you paid for this, and we accidentally shipped it to the wrong place,” so you end up really managing the business, is a good thing, and it’s fun, but at the same time, there’s a lot more overhead expenses that go into that as opposed to producing the digital PDF’s.
Felix: Makes a lot of sense. When you did get into the physical products end, you knew there was demand for it because your clients were talking about it and people were talking about it and wanted to buy, actually give you money for it. What was the first step into turning it into a business? Could you use any of the work that you already put in for the digital products? Could you use any of that to help you, I guess, launch your physical products?
Ashley: No. Unfortunately, that didn’t really help me a whole lot with the pancakes, and being 100% honest, the thing that launched my business, and I tell everybody don’t hate on social media because people make fun of social media so much. Don’t hate on it. That grew my business. Instagram. If you can scroll, it’s a long ways down to the very first post I ever made on Instagram for the Abs Pancakes. It is the worse copy I’ve ever seen, and I literally think I took a picture of the pancakes I made for myself at breakfast and said something like, “Hey, these pancakes have 26 grams of protein. Let me know if you want some,” or something like that.
No. I think it’s a Facebook store. I had a Facebook store on there, and the URL to get to the Facebook store was 130 characters long. It wasn’t even a store, but I made that post just because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have a website yet. All I had was a Facebook shop and Paypal at the time, and I made a post on Instagram and used hashtags that I thought were related to it, and immediately, 3 or 4 people ended up sending me a message through that account just saying, “Hey, how do I order this? This link doesn’t make sense to me. Can I just Paypal it to you?” I started the entire business making Instagram posts with hashtags and then doing manual Paypal invoices for every single order, as crazy as that is.
In the very beginning, everything was I sent out an email. They sent out their address, and I hand mixed every single bag, labeled it, sealed it, put it in a USPS Priority mailer, and went to the post office every day, but 100%, even now, Instagram is one of the largest followings that I have for the business, and the same strategy works time and time again, just consistency, putting good content and good recipes out there and using the right hashtags so you make it easy for your customer to find you.
Felix: I like that you aren’t ashamed to have started that way because I think a lot of people that are thinking about starting a business, thinking about becoming an entrepreneur want to get it perfect right off the bat. They want to have whole systems set up, beautiful site set up, everything set up before even a dollar comes to their door, but you started much easier. Instagram account, you set that up. It’s all free for everybody, and then just started putting out content. Did you already have a following on Instagram? Were people just discovering you strictly through these hashtags?
Ashley: No, I didn’t have any following. I created the page from scratch, and I didn’t have a following on my own page. I think I had maybe 100 people and they were all friends and family who followed my personal page. It was all through hashtags, and once I started to gain some traction … I even just wrote a whole article about this because somebody else asked me, “Hey, I don’t have an advertising budget, but I want to start a business. How do I get free traffic to my store?” I outlined, this is exactly how I started the pancake business is the hashtags and then I started reaching out to other influencers, and I didn’t know these people. These are perfect strangers, and they would have, I don’t know, 10, 20, 30,000 followers saying, “Hey, my name is Ashley. I really like the stuff you’ve put on your page. If I sent you a sample,” and this was in a Ziploc bag, so it was nowhere near perfect, “would you mind, if you like it, just make a post about it and tell them that it’s called Abs Protein Pancakes.”
I think I got a solid 10 people because I was reaching out consistently and the more these people were posting for me, it grew so fast that I couldn’t manually do these orders anymore, and then, eventually, I started going to … I didn’t actually have boost yet, because that’s the other thing, too, is a lot of people think you have to go to trade shows and spend $5,000 if you have a physical product and get your name out that way. Even now, to this day, I don’t do that. I’ve never done trade shows, but I would go and attend them and just connect with the other brands and ask them, “Hey, we have similar niches. You’re in the fitness and nutrition product.”
Or even if it was a coffee product, a food product. It doesn’t matter, and just ask, “If I give you a sample of the pancakes, would you mind making a recipe for it,” or “I’ll do the work. You give me your product, and I’ll make the recipe and post it for us if you’ll just re-share it,” and brands love that. If you’ll do cross promotions for them because it helps them out just as much, I think easily people could gain tons of followers, 1,000 a month, if they just reached out to brands that align with their own brand and offer to do a little bit of work that gave value to them, as well. This coming week, I don’t know when this going out, but Father’s Day, we’re doing a cross promotion with 6-Pack Bags. They’re a huge, huge thing in the fitness industry, and it’s great to be able to do it, but it also gives them something to offer to their customers.
If people focus on just Instagram, you make regular consistent posts. I always tell people do it 2 times a day. Think about when you’re most relaxed and on your phone, which is usually right in the morning. You’re eating breakfast. You’re doing whatever you’re doing, and at night before you go to bed, so I always schedule out a post around 6 am and then a post around 7 or 8 pm at night because I know that’s when people are most on their phone and do it every single day so people get used to seeing your content coming through. Then use the hashtags, reach out to some key influencers, and it’s going to build your brand exponentially within 6 months.
I did that starting August 1st, and I think the first month, I had something like 5,000 sales or something just from Instagram, so no ads, no anything. I didn’t even have a website or packaging or branding. That’s all manual stuff just through social media.
Felix: Wow. That’s amazing. I want to definitely dig into this a little bit more. You built this business just by choosing the right hashtags, and I want to talk in a second about how you discovered these, but then also collaborating with brands by. You mentioned basically bringing more to the table than just, “Hey, can you take this product and try it out?” When you were collaborating with these brands, I think a lot of other entrepreneurs out there might be intimidated by approaching a brand that they have 1,000 followers and these other brands have 10, 20, 30,000 like you’re talking about. Were you ever intimidated or was it ever an issue that you had a smaller following than they did?
Ashley: I think I was a little intimidated starting out, but at the same time, I was reaching out to so many people that if I sent out 5 emails in a day and 4 of them told me that, “Hey, you only have 500 followers. I have 30,000. Why am I going to help you?” And I had 1 that was willing to help, I didn’t care because at least 1 of them ended up working out, but more importantly, I made sure to actually build a relationship with these people. I didn’t just send them a random message, not even saying anything about them and just like, “Hey, I have a product. You have a product. I think we should do a cross promotion,” because I get that stuff now and it drives me nuts.
I always made sure I would send a message. I’d first offer to send them product. “Hey, I really like your page. I love the content you’re providing. It seems like we have a similar audience. Would you mind if I sent you some product? I think you would really like it, and then let me know how you feel about it,” and 9 times out of 10, obviously people want free product, I would send the product, I would follow up with them about 2 weeks later maybe, just saying, “Hey, I hope you had a great weekend. How is your Monday started out? By the way, how did you like the pancakes?” If they loved them, I’d be like, “That’s awesome. What do you think about doing a cross promotion or something like that because I know a lot of my followers or customers would like it, too.”
Most people, because you’re being sincere and taking the time to follow up, ask about them and compliment them, won’t have a problem with it. I never have a problem with it if people are actually taking the time to do that, but I think if you approach it very much of just like, “Hey, I don’t know you. Let’s do a cross promotion and collaborate with brands,” that’s not ever going to work. It’ll be very intimidating.
The other thing I would suggest, too, is if you know anybody who has a connection to a brand that might fit yours, so I did a lot of networking when I was first starting out, just sending out emails, being on social media, and like I said, going to fitness shows, just seeing what brands were there, and through just getting to know people and actually following up because with our society and where everybody’s in the digital space, followup is so far and few between that if you even meet somebody tomorrow and then actually follow up and send them an email or text of, “Hey, it was great meeting you. I hope we can do business one day,” they’re going to remember you because nobody does that.
I just made sure to, and this goes back to the whole thing we talked about earlier with the business, that I was taking the time to get to know these people, build a relationship, compliment them on their success and their products and all the things they were doing, and then I approached them later asking them if they would be interested, so if you do a cross promotion, make sure that there’s something you have to offer them, so even if I had no followers, I would mention to them that if we did the cross promotion, I’ll take care of the copy, I’ll take care of the recipe, I’ll build out the landing page, I’ll do everything, and I’ll send it to you. All you have to do is post because then it’s a no-brainer for them, and you’re doing so much and giving so much value.
Felix: That makes a lot of sense, and I think that this goes back to, again, what we were saying earlier about how there’s so much of a focus these days on the numbers game. How can I scale up as quickly as possible? How can I automate this? How can I outsource all of this? If you do take a step to make it more personal, that you follow up, you stand out from the crowd immediately, and maybe you are taking a shotgun approach and trying to approach so many different people, you’re still going to convert or get as many people to actually respond to you because you’ve taken the time to build a relationship, like you were talking about.
I want to talk a little bit more about the approach that you’ve taken where you are bringing more to the table. You said you talked about creating the copy, creating the landing page. Are there any other ways that worked well for you or that you suggest other entrepreneurs try out if they do have a much smaller audience, a much smaller customer base, and they’re trying to collaborate with someone much bigger than them?
Ashley: I would suggest doing a giveaway or one of the things that I’ve done previously, too, is if you’re able to give any type of samples or coupon or whatnot, offer to a brand that fits yours, say, “Hey, this is who I am. I really love your product. I’ve been following it.” Or whatever compliments you want to give them, and then offer it to them. “Hey, I’m not looking for anything, but I just wanted to know if you would be interested if we gave your customers $5 off every purchase they had, would that help you?”
It does because that brand is now able to offer a bonus or some other great thing with their customers in every purchase, but at the same time, I can’t remember who talked about this. It was on another podcast I was listening to, but even if there’s something they’re not doing that you see in their business, I’ve used this approach, as well, of, “Hey, it’s great to get to know you. By the way, I noticed you guys aren’t using XYZ.” Maybe, “You’re not using this hashtag,” or maybe, “You’re not using this approach and this skill, I think it could really benefit your business. I can talk to you about it if you have 5 minutes. I would love to help you with this.”
Immediately, if somebody sees it’s a legitimate suggestion of, “Hey, I’ve noticed you’re not using the hashtag fitness and you’re a personal trainer. Just FYI, I wanted to point that out and I hope it helps you. If you need more help with Instagram, I can help you with this.” They’re going to build a connection with you because you’re not asking them for anything. You’re just trying to offer help. From there, then somewhere along the lines when you establish a relationship, you can approach them with, “Hey, by the way, would you be interested in doing a giveaway or a cross promotion?” Or, “Hey, Father’s Day is coming up. Our products go hand in hand. Why don’t we offer value to both of our customers by doing a bundle package or whatnot?” Because people are always looking for new things to bring to their brand. Even if you don’t have a ton of followers, but you have a good product, you’re a good businessperson, you’re sincere in your relationships, they’re going to want to do something together because it helps them out, as well.
Felix: I think the other side of this where the reason why people are hesitant to do this is because I think a lot of entrepreneurs think that everyone else has it all figured out already, that your competitors or even other businesses out there already know all of these things, so why would I know something that they don’t know, that why would I be able to teach them something, but I think it’s important to know that if you’re an entrepreneur and you’ve tried things out and you’ve been in the game for even 6 months, you have something to teach, something to offer because you have this experience.
Like we were saying way earlier, it’s a lonely journey, lonely path already that they’re aren’t a lot of people who are trying to help each other out, and if you have that experience, you can definitely offer something of value back to them, and this is something that you should definitely use if you want to find ways to connect with these influencers and other brands. When you talked about this, I started thinking why aren’t more people doing this? I think that’s a part of it, too, is just not that they don’t want to take the time to do it, but they don’t think that they have something to offer, and I think that’s another kind of stigma that we have to crush if you want to be a successful entrepreneur and be able to network with these people.
I want to talk a little bit now about your … I guess before we move on, I want to talk about how to measure something like this. Do you measure your success with this kind of influencer marketing or is there a way to track how well it’s doing for particular influencers that you’re working with?
Ashley: You can. I’ve done it before where I’ve done cross promotions with brands and what we do is we have one of us set up a landing page, so if we’re doing a two-day giveaway since it is coming up on Father’s Day. If we did a two-day giveaway for Father’s Day and we re-posted it on all of our social media platforms, and then had all of the entrants enter at my landing page, for example, we see how many opt-ins come in, how many emails we capture, and whatnot. I’ve done that a few times. It’s great for email capture. At the same time, it doesn’t get as big as a social media response as just having people tag or re-post or whatever, re-share or make a creation and let us know or comment below, so I don’t measure it a ton. However, because I’ve done so many of them over the last two years, I know what is a great launch and a great cross promotion and what just okay.
I’ve had some where we do a two-day launch, and in two days, I have over 1,500 new followers, my sales may triple or quadruple, and now all of a sudden, I have this whole new audience that I can now give recipes and content and value and gain as customers, where I’ve also had others that maybe I only get 50–100 followers because it’s a smaller brand. I think after you’ve done a few of them, you know how you can track what you normally would be getting on average.
Felix: I like that because there’s, again, so much emphasis on the numbers again on the analytics, of the data and everything, and sometimes, that stuff definitely you cannot ignore that, but sometimes when you spend so much time trying to measure everything, you could potentially add friction to the organic marketing that comes out of something like this. Like you were saying, you had to draw up and go to a landing page and click this and click that. It just adds too many steps. People in general, not talking about customers, but just in general, people are lazy. You don’t want to add too many steps to the process of them connecting with you.
I definitely don’t want to let you off this podcast without talking about your Shark Tank experience, so let’s talk about that. What was the process like? Let’s start with how did you get on the show itself?
Ashley: Shark Tank. It’s interesting because everybody has a different experience, and I didn’t know that there was different processes until literally the day of filming. I started the Abs Pancakes in August of 2014, and I’m all about meditation, law of attraction, things like that, and I moved to California and it was September, and I remember in one day people asked what I did. I told them I have this pancake business, and they were like, “Hey, you should go on Shark Tank. You should apply to be on Shark Tank.” I had this general rule of thumb for myself that if I hear something more than twice, especially in the same day, I feel like that’s life or the universe trying to be like, “Hey, you should pay attention and actually listen.”
I remember I told my boyfriend that. I was like, “Hey, this may sound crazy, but I think I might apply to be on Shark Tank. I don’t think anything’s going to come of it. I’m just going to do it because what’s the worse thing that can happen? I’m two months into my business. I don’t have any money. I’m totally in startup grind. Maybe I’ll get a deal.” I applied. I sent everything in, and I 100% just let it go, not thinking anything would happen, and in March, so six months later, I was at a fitness event, and I got a call from a random number in Los Angeles, and it was one of the producers who was just like, “Hey, we got your application, and we’re sorry for the delay, and we really like your business though and would love to move you to the next round.”
Of course, like any entrepreneur, I’m freaking out, like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe they even have my application. This is amazing.” From that, it is such a long tedious process. We got the first call in March, and then from March all the way to that June was nothing but paperwork after paperwork, and I tell everybody, "If you’ve ever bought a home and you know how much paperwork goes into that, times that by 10 every single week of what they want from you, from your business, your entire life story.
Ashley: It’s insane the amount of work. Then they’ll tell you, “You have 24 hours to get this back to us.” I don’t know if they’re just testing and weeding out who can’t handle the pressure or what, but it was crazy. In June, June 29th, almost a year ago, June 29th last year is when we actually did the filming, so it was almost a full year from applying to actually going on set and filming our episode, and then from June, we didn’t actually air until this past January, so everything took almost a year and a half to do it. As far as getting on, it was a really easy process for me and maybe that was the whole back to the just listening to life thing because I got that call back, and from there, I had to send in a YouTube video with a pitch and talking about the story that was the most unprofessional, worse YouTube video ever, and if I could find it, I would love to share it, but that was it.
Then every week, I’d get a call and they’d move to the next round and then the next round and so on, so it was definitely a long process, but obviously it’s worth it.
Felix: I just want to recap what the actual filming was like. I hopefully have the right stats here. You originally came in asking for $120,000 for 40% of the company. What ended up happening?
Ashley: I ended up getting a deal with Daymond John, Mr. Fubu, who’s actually, obviously, he’s part of Shopify and their Build a Business thing, and he offered 120,000 for 42%. However, with the actual filming, he, Mark Cuban … Everybody loved the pancakes, and Mark Cuban went out, Lori went out, Kevin went out, and all 3 of their reasons for going out was because they didn’t really eat pancakes that much, which is crazy. Who doesn’t eat pancakes? Then, Daymond was on the fence, and then Daymond went out, so all that was left was Robert, and Robert offered 120,000 for 50%, and I was not ready to give up 50%, so I countered it and asked if he would do 45.
He came back, said he would do 49, and I was right on the verge, in a stuck place, because you want the deal, but you don’t want to give up 49%, and last minute, Daymond came back in and said 42%, 120,000. You have to take the deal right now. No more negotiating. In a heartbeat, I took it, but what aired on television, I think only 7 minutes of it aired. The actual pitch and negotiation was 45 minutes long.
Felix: I’ve heard that they cut it down a lot, so it’s crazy to see … You must have been nervous for you to see this come on air wondering what pieces they included out of the 45. That’s something I’ve heard from other Shark Tank contestants is that you don’t know what’s going to come on the show until you actually watch with everybody else. After the show aired, I know there is a period of time where all of the dealing, things that happen, all the due diligence needs to happen. Is that all closed out now for you or is that still ongoing?
Ashley: No, that closed out fairly quickly for me. The airing closed June 29th, and the due diligence started immediately, and I believe that final terms and everything that we agreed on happened right at the new year, so the process was 5–6 months for the due diligence. We were still in communication and things were still moving forward for the business. It was just the legal contracts and everything took about 6 months or so to get it closed. Airing January 5th, I think terms, we closed on it January 3rd.
Felix: Awesome. How have you worked with Daymond since then? What’s the arrangement with somebody, with an investor like him?
Ashley: The actual details of the arrangement I can’t really disclose, but it’s a really interesting experience working with him because a lot of times … He has a team. He has a different person for each section, and that’s obviously how he does what he does, and usually, any opportunity that comes to Daymond that would be a good fit for the Abs Pancakes or even if there’s some health and wellness thing coming up, somebody from his team reaches out, offers it to you. Obviously, you’re not obligated to do anything, and then they put in the terms what the agreement is, so if they bring in an opportunity and it’s something that I’m really interested in and if it’s within the margins, they’ll let you know what percentage of that is going to go to the Shark Team and to Daymond because they made that connection.
A lot of people think you get a deal on Shark Tank, you walk offset, and somebody writes you a check for 120,000 and now you have all this cash in the bank to do what you want with it, and that’s not how it works. You definitely, fortunately, have the flexibility afterwards to negotiate and get a little creative, so if you want, you can do a portion of money to fund inventory and then just hold off and see if you really need that, or, sometimes, I’ve heard that other Sharks, too, they won’t even give any money to it and, instead, they help you get your business running to see if they really even need to be a part of it anyways.
For me, it’s been a huge blessing. Next week … No, not next week. July 18th and 19th, we air on HSN with Daymond, so he’s flying down and we have a 2-day television spot to launch the product again, so it’s been amazing. His team is awesome. It’s great to be able to have them and the Rolodex to reach out to for anything that we need, and if they can help, then they do everything they can to help.
Felix: That’s awesome. It’s almost like you all of a sudden have this tap into all these opportunities that normally you wouldn’t be able to come across unless you had an opportunity like this. Were there any specific lessons that you know? I guess the relationship that you have with Daymond hasn’t been that long, but have there been any specific lessons or mentorship that he’s offered you? Anything that you could share with the listeners?
Ashley: He hasn’t really offered any specific lessons or mentorship. I think one of the biggest things that he promotes, even with his book, The Power of Broke, and I fully believe in this, is he really just encourages myself, entrepreneurs, get creative. Just because you don’t have a ton of money to start your business doesn’t mean you can’t build it into this huge empire and that a lot of times, like with The Power of Broke, the power of broke and not having the money is almost more of a blessing than a curse that a lot of people think because you’re forced to do things that most people wouldn’t even think of who have the money to throw at ad campaigns.
Think about if I had $100,000 to throw into Google Ads and/or whatnot to launch my business, I would have never even realized you can grow an entire business off Instagram with hashtags and cross promotions and whatnot, so I think that’s the main lesson that he teaches, that he talks about. That’s one of the main things. When we do business together and I’m in a situation where, “Hey, this is coming up and I need this inventory?” It’s not like he just comes across with, “All right. Here. Let me write you a check.” He’s always like, “Come on, Ash. Get creative. What are we going to do?” I’m like, “All right. I’m going to figure this out.”
I think that’s the whole beauty of being an entrepreneur and the whole reason we get into business is because we want to create and create our life and create our businesses and products, so any entrepreneurs out there who are maybe really just boot strapping it and don’t have the money, see that more as how you can leverage that instead of so much as like a block or an obstacle that’s holding you back from building something because truly, we’re the only people who hold ourselves back from anything, so definitely tap into the creativity, think about ways you can get exposure and traffic and grow your brand without necessarily needing a ton of capital.
Felix: I think it’s important, too, to remember that money is a tool at the end of the day. It’s useful when you need to scale up, but it needs to be applied to something that already works at a smaller scale. Get creative. Figure out how it works, and then, when you need to really scale it up, then you can use money as a tool, but it’s not a requirement to start a business itself because there’s just so many free ways to do it. You started your business with 100% free ways, too. I think one of the things you mentioned I want to talk about before we close is in the pre-interview, you mentioned that you say that you should trust your intuition in an entrepreneurship and always go with your gut and listen to your own instincts to help you guide, to help you find your way in business. Can you talk a little bit more about this? What are some examples of times where you had to have trusted your intuition and guts and you didn’t have, I guess, the facts laid out in front of you, too, to make a decision?
Ashley: Oh, man. One specific example that comes to mind is when I was in California in September of 2014, by myself, no family, no friends, and it was just me building this business, and this was before the business was even proven successful. I was just praying and hoping that a sale came through that day, and when it did, I was so excited, and I just kept moving. I had reached out to … Oh, actually, Craig Ballantyne, the person I said toward the beginning of this podcast who does very well digital marketing, as a mentor because I needed to find a manufacturer, a co-packer, because I wasn’t able to fill the orders and I felt like that was holding me back from being able to really grow the business.
There was this forum for people in the online world. I don’t think it exists anymore, but at the time, I just posted in there, said, “Hey, I’m doing this protein pancake thing. Is there anybody who knows a co-packer? If so, please let me know immediately.” He responded. It was a long response about, “Ashley, don’t do this. This is a huge mistake. You need to stay in the digital space. You can make so much more money in here. I’m letting you know as your mentor this is a bad idea, and you’re going to regret it.” I remember it was like a stab straight to the heart of, oh my gosh, my mentor is telling me don’t do this, and I really started to doubt myself because up until that point, everything I was doing was totally off of a gut feeling. I feel like this can be something big, and I was, like I said, meditating and really soul searching, and that feeling of people say you just know.
I remember having conversations with people like, “I just know this is going to be a big deal, and it’s going to be successful, even though I wasn’t hardly making any sales,” and so when that happened, I was totally discouraged and I remember sitting back and stopping whatever I was doing for business that day and just sitting there thinking, “Wow, maybe he knows something I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. Maybe this really is a bad idea and I’m just not seeing all the warning signs.” I took a whole day to myself to not only sulk in my self pity about how I just got heartbroken about my dream, but to really figure it out. What feels right for me, and I just got to this place.
I remember I was writing or journaling or something and I just decided at that moment, I’m like, “You know what? This isn’t his life. This is my life, and this feels 100% right to me, and I have to go with that.” Ever since then, it’s proven to be successful and I always listen to my gut over everything, but I think that every entrepreneur knows. Even aside from business and entrepreneur, in a relationship, in a job, in whatever it is, you always know. You’re like, “Ugh, man, something doesn’t feel right,” or “I really feel like I’m supposed to do this.” I really just always encourage people, don’t ask everybody else what you should do.
If you’re completely lost, it might be a good idea just to get some direction, but there’s this book that I’ve read three times in the last month called Inspired and Unstoppable, and she talks about how we all have this natural success journey within ourselves and when we start the road to entrepreneurship, we trust it 100% because it’s so strong, but somewhere along the way, we get stuck in these obstacles and we have a few setbacks, and then we start to doubt ourselves, and we feel like, “Oh, maybe if I just get another business coach or maybe if I just buy another book or I go to some other seminar. Maybe then that’ll be it.”
The whole thing is really just always coming back to that of, “All right. If I just get quiet, I shut out all of the noise outside of me and stop asking everybody else and I just ask myself, ask these questions, what would be the best thing to do?” You’re always going to get an answer. It’s just practicing, trusting that’ll help you move forward over and over.
Felix: I love that, and I think that that’s a problem that a lot of entrepreneurs face, which is that we start to feel