Building A Multi-Million Fitness Brand Without Paid Marketing

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During a yoga retreat, life and enterprise companions Natalie Holloway and Maximilian Kislevitz obtained the thought so as to add weighted bands to their movement for a extra intense exercise. The couple shortly started designing trendy wrist and ankle weights and efficiently launched Bala in 2017 on Kickstarter, and later had each Shark vying to be their accomplice on Shark Tank. In this episode of Shopify Masters, Natalie and Max share how they examined product viability, gained protection from notable publications, and have constructed a multi-million model with out paid promoting.

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Show Notes

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Turning back-of-the-napkin concepts into actuality

Prior to taking the entrepreneurial plunge, Natalie and Max labored at 72andSunny, a advertising and marketing company in Los Angeles. “We worked on major brands like Starbucks, Google, and Coors Light,” says Max. When the couple determined to take a step again from the company world and journey, they went on yoga retreats. During one meditative class, Natalie and Max thought it could be nice if there was a technique to make these meditative courses extra bodily impactful. “Whatever happened to the wrist and ankle weights from the 1980s?”, the couple questioned. They used the again of a close-by serviette to start out sketching out ways in which weighted bands might be improved to assist amplify exercises⁠—and different everyday actions. 

 Natalie Holloway and Maximilian Kislevitz, the founders of Bala.
Life and enterprise companions, Natalie Holloway and Maximilian Kislevitz turned their thought for trendy weighted bands into Bala Bangles. Bala

“At the outset, we didn’t know how to do anything,” says Natalie. Fortunately, company expertise armed them with the resourcefulness wanted to sort out every step because it got here, beginning with product design and prototyping for his or her Kickstarter marketing campaign. “We had no idea if anybody would be interested in the product,” says Natalie. “Crowdfunding was a really great way to test the market”. 

For Max and Natalie, testing their thought as quickly as attainable was much more necessary than getting the product design excellent for launch day. “On our Kickstarter, if you look at the photos it’s different from what we actually launched,” Natalie says. They made frequent enhancements all through their Kickstarter marketing campaign and even after it closed, going via “greater than a dozen prototypes” to seek out their ultimate design of chrome steel weights coated in recycled silicon. After surpassing their purpose of $40,000 on Kickstarter, Natalie and Max began the preliminary manufacturing for his or her backers and tweaked designs as they went. 

Preparation for profitable Shark Tank pitch 

Natalie and Max utilized to be featured on Shark Tank throughout the present’s tenth season, however simply as they had been about to e-book their flights to Los Angeles for the taping, they had been dropped from the lineup. “We were super bummed because it’s a lot of work,” says Natalie. As destiny would have it, they had been invited again months later for the subsequent season and chosen to look throughout the episode that tennis star, Maria Sharapova, was a visitor Shark.

Natalie Holloway and Maximilian Kislevitz on Shark Tank, pitching Bala Bangles to the sharks.
Practice makes excellent when Natalie and Max rehearsed their pitch a minimum of 1000 occasions earlier than occurring Shark Tank. Bala

With Maria’s presence, the stakes had been raised; Natalie and Max obsessively prepped for his or her pitch. “We wrote our pitch and practiced it no less than 1000 times,” says Max, “It might be a single word that’s changed just to help the flow and cadence of the pitch.” The couple additionally mapped out all the attainable eventualities they may face, from no provides to low valuation to royalty offers. They even rewatched each episode and wrote out an exhaustive listing of attainable questions, together with their solutions for every.

The intensive preparation paid off when all the Sharks pursued a proposal. Having reached roughly $2.5 million in lifetime gross sales since 2018, Natalie and Max accepted a proposal of $900,000 from Mark Cuban and Maria Sharapova for a 30% stake in Bala. 

Thumb-stopping editorial content material in a saturated health market

If you’re scrolling Instagram and come upon Bala, their content material will make you double-tap and double-take. Bala’s imagery does not appear to be a lot of the content material throughout the health trade. Instead, they take a extra editorialized and creative strategy with their images and movies. Erika Holloway, Bala’s model director and Natalie’s sister, has established a definite imaginative and prescient and aesthetic for Bala’s content material⁠—one that’s meant to face out in a sea of sameness. 

Three models wearing workout bodysuits and Bala Bangles in the desert.
Unlike most health content material that focuses on efficiency and performance, Bala has taken an editorialized strategy to its content material and branding. Alexander Kramer

“Bala sits at this interesting intersection between fashion and fitness,” says Max. “We’re treating a fitness product as part of your fashionable life.” With desert backdrops, eye-catching equipment, and daring prints, their imagery is unafraid to take dangers. That’s for good cause. When coming into an already saturated trade, the best threat is being ignored. “It’s been really gratifying with this product to be able to challenge the norms we’ve all come to expect in the fitness space,” Max shares. 

A model with sunglasses, in a workout bodysuit showcasing Bala Bangles while being on the phone.
Bold, standout, and crowd pleasing. Bala’s unconventional strategy to their picture has paid off. Timony Siobhan

The editorialized nature of Bala’s content material has allowed its model to be simply integrated into main media shops. The daring and classy nature of their press package makes it engaging for magazines like Vogue, Marie Claire, and Shape to leverage Bala’s photos inside their function. Their content material has helped to catch the attention of main retail companions as properly.

Organic advertising and marketing and the facility of media protection 

To date, Bala hasn’t invested in paid advertising and marketing efforts. Natalie and Max focus most of their power and energy on reaching out to media shops, along with constructing their very own editorial model. “We tried to leverage any connection we had,” says Natalie. “We did cold outreach. We’d go through a magazine and look at the editor’s name, find them on Instagram, DM them, see if they wanted a product.”

One of the earliest bits of protection they obtained was from Shape Magazine, all because of a pal’s introduction to an editor. “Getting a press mention or getting into a known retailer gives you instant credibility,” Max provides. Similar to getting your first job, you need to attempt to community as a lot as attainable to get the early work expertise that may launch your profession. “And it’s that first domino to fall that kickstarts sales, other retail relationships, and other press mentions,” Max says.

A model in a pink workout bodysuit showcasing Bala Bangles.
Reaching out to editors and retailers, in addition to attending commerce exhibits, allowed Bala to market with out investing in paid efforts. Timony Siobhan

On the retailer aspect, Natalie and Max use the identical scrappy strategy, hitting the metaphorical pavement on Linkedin to search for consumers and merchandisers that is perhaps keen on making an attempt out Bala Bangles. A fortunate break got here when Free People found their content material on Instagram and reached out with a wholesale alternative. Natalie says that the important thing has been getting the product into individuals’s arms, usually via free presents and samples. The early protection Bala Bangles obtained was important, because it helped them construct stronger relationships with even greater retailers, and issues snowballed from there. 

Natalie and Max additionally credit score commerce exhibits for constructing relationships with consumers—although, with due warning. To guarantee profitability and higher evaluation of their investments, Natalie and Max preserve a spreadsheet that tracks each time a sale is available in from a commerce present. These particulars make sure the group is spending their money and time properly, and that the upfront prices of attending a present are well worth the funding. 

Adjusting to a surge in demand throughout COVID-19 

Bala’s episode of Shark Tank premiered on February 28th, simply shortly previous to lots of the quarantine measures put into place to curb COVID-19. “We had this one-two punch of the exposure associated with Shark Tank, and then interest in fitness products,” shares Max. With the sharp enhance in demand, Bala Bangles had been shortly offered out. Luckily, Bala’s established manufacturing relationships enabled them to take preorders, so they may proceed managing their progress and keep clear with their clients whereas navigating the newfound achievement challenges.

The group was fast to supply Instagram Live exercises with skilled trainers, together with fast-tracking exercise movies that function their merchandise however may be accomplished with out them as properly. “We’ve put those up for free on our website, giving people an outlet regardless if they have Bala products or not,” says Max. Offering free digital exercise courses and tutorials helped Bala to supply a way of normalcy throughout quarantine, shine a highlight on trainers, and construct their group. 

Three models wearing workout bodysuits and Bala Bangles in the desert.
Beyond their success with Bala Bangles, Natalie and Max are excited to sort out new merchandise which might be in want of a classy redesign. Alexander Kramer

Throughout these tumultuous occasions, the group has remained in fixed contact with their manufacturing accomplice to satisfy demand. The key to managing their gross sales within the present local weather is being clear with their provider and their clients. “We try to be transparent with everyone about the lead times,” says Max, “Everything is happening more slowly, but because we’re armed with the information about those timelines, we’re able to communicate with customers about when a pre-order is likely to come through.” 

As far as they’ve come, and as thrilling because the journey has been thus far, Natalie and Max confess to being much more excited in regards to the future. The considerably stagnant state of the health trade, as they see it, is cause sufficient to diversify their providing. “We are actively trying to bring the design to fitness products and accessories that might not otherwise have seen much innovation in decades,” says Max.