How I Bootstrapped 6-Figure E-Commerce Brand in Year 1 Business With Zero Ad Spend


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Connor Meakin

“How I bootstrapped a 6-figure e-commerce brand in its first year with zero ad spend.”

That was the subject line Side Hustle Show listener Connor Meakin sent me that grabbed my attention and earned him a spot on this week’s show.

The brand Connor is talking about is BluebirdProvisions.co, an organic bone broth and bone broth powder company.

Connor started Bluebird Provisions after suffering a devastating foot injury that doctors said he would never fully recover from and be able to run again.

Searching for alternative, holistic ways to heal his foot, Connor decided to try drinking bone broth.

He accredits healing his foot injury, in part, to the healing properties in bone broth and decided to manufacture his own line of bone broth products.

Connor now sells his products through retail stores like Whole Foods, on Amazon, and through his own e-commerce site, and saw a 225% growth last year.

Tune in to The Side Hustle Show interview to hear:

  • how Connor came up with the idea to sell bone broth
  • how he’s turned it into a reality for a relatively low startup cost
  • the creative and effective ways he’s driving sales on and off of Amazon today

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The Idea to Start Bluebird Provisions

“In my 20s, I was an ultra-marathon runner, I got really into competitive running,” Connor told me.

Connor’s competitive running career was going well. He was running a lot of 30km and 50km races and even winning some.

But that all came to an abrupt halt when he got injured.

Connor told me he “messed up the ligaments and the fascia on the bottom of my foot so badly that the doctors had never seen the particular injury I had.”

He was told by healthcare professionals that his injury was so bad he wouldn’t run again.

Devastated by the news, and feeling let down by Western medicine, Connor started looking at Eastern approaches to fixing ligament damage.

Connor said he found some research on how to heal ligaments and tendons using collagen, gelatin, and bone broth. It was the bone broth, in particular, that interested him.

So, Connor started making bone broth himself to see if it would help. Much to the annoyance of his neighbors who had to endure the smell!

Connor said he drank bone broth every day and started to see his body healing.

“I’m not going to say that bone broth alone is what fixed it—I was doing lots of other things as well. But the holistic eating approach really spoke to me, and I became passionate about bone broth through the process of healing my body,” Connor explained.

Market Analysis

Connor told me he could see there were a few brands in the US selling bone broth, but not much competition where he lived in Canada.

Connor said he started producing and selling his bone broth online in Canada, and soon found his way into local grocery stores.

Compared with what was already out there, when I asked Connor why he thought his product would do well he told me, “ego and stubbornness has a lot to do with it.”

Connor had a strong belief in his product. He tried some of the other bone broth products on the market and knew he was making a better product.

Competitive Analysis on Amazon

Connor wanted to start selling his bone broth on Amazon, so he looked at what was already being sold there.

To do this, Connor used a tool called Helium10. This gave him data on how much revenue some of the bone broth products were turning over each month.

Connor said he could see some companies were making $250k+/mo per product.

With this data, Connor said he knew if he could get on the first page of Amazon for some of the keywords he wanted to target he would be turning over $10k+/mo.

From Idea to Manufacturing a Product

Connor said there are a couple of different ways you can go when manufacturing a food product.

  • There is the “craft” route. This involves renting a commercial kitchen, using their equipment, getting the right licenses, and making your product.
  • Or you can find a “contract manufacturer”. This involves finding a manufacturer that will make the product for you and charge you per unit.

Connor opted to use a contract manufacturer as it didn’t require as much start-up capital.

To find a company to work with, Connor put out an RFQ (request for quote) on a contract manufacturing website, and started cold calling companies.

A tip Connor shared is to actually avoid the big players and look for a smaller manufacturing company.

He said a lot of the companies you’ll find at the top of Google will charge double what you should pay.

Connor said he ended up finding a company with the right licenses to make a powder product and asked if they could make his broth powder.

Getting a Product to Market

After a little back and forth with the manufacturer testing samples, Connor said he placed an order for 1,000 units for his first production run.

This cost around $5,000, which covered the raw materials, packaging, the production run, and shipping the product to Amazon.

Something that took Connor by surprise was the time it took. He said for anyone placing their first order with a manufacturer, expect it to take at least twice as long as you expect.

Making The First Sales and Gaining Traction

Connor launched his product on Amazon and his Shopify store in the US at the same time.

He was already selling his bone broth in Canada, so he was ranking organically for some keywords related to bone broth and his brand and had decent traffic.

Once he started selling in the US, Connor said he started putting more effort into SEO and engaging with his email list.

Connor said he also started asking everyone he knew to Google or look for his product on Amazon and click through to it.

He said this helps with SEO and sends positive signals to Amazon’s algorithm. It’s basically showing search engines that people are looking for his products and clicking them.

Connor also asked friends of friends to leave reviews where possible as this also helps boost new products in Amazon’s algorithm and results pages.

He said it was a lot of work to start with, but it definitely paid off.

Building an Email List

Connor had a small email list when he started selling his product in the US. But quickly started seeing 500-1,000 new sign-ups a month after launching there.

He admitted it took him a while to figure out email capture on the website and said that he finds blog traffic to be “pretty cold traffic.”

Connor said his current opt-in conversion rate for organic blog traffic is around 3-5%, which is pretty good.

A couple of the most effective email capture offers that are working for Connor are:

  • Quizzes – Connor created a bone broth quiz using Typeform. It only takes a few seconds to fill out and is a great way to find out more about his audience while providing them with answers about which broth is best for them.
  • Giveaways – Connor tested a pop-up offering the chance to win free bone broth and it’s been working really well. “Evidently people like free stuff,” Connor told me.

On a typical blog post, Connor has a couple of opt-ins embedded into the post as well as a pop-up.

The email service provider Connor is using is called Klaviyo. Connor said Klaviyo is the best provider for e-commerce sites as they have some tools that work well with e-commerce needs.

For example, he’s able to integrate Klaviyo with his quiz results and send subscribers a customized welcome flow based on the product they were recommended in the quiz.

“Buy or Die” Email Strategy

Connor has a pretty aggressive email strategy he calls “buy or die.”

What Connor means by this is that he wants people on his list to either buy from him or unsubscribe.

Connor said he does this because having people on his list that will never buy from him is harmful to his deliverability, and they’re also costing him money.

To push people to either buy or unsubscribe, Connor sends out around 20 emails over the first couple of months.

The first email is sent as soon as someone signs up for his list. They then get another email every couple of days for around 10 days, followed by an email every 3-4 days.

SEO

Connor said that all of his email subscribers have found him through SEO and he could see it was because he was ranking well for some keywords in the US.

Connor used to read Neil Patel’s blog, and he picked up from Neil that longer articles rank better.

Early on after launching his site, Connor said he wrote a couple of long articles targeting questions consumers have about bone broth products, like the difference between bone broth and stock.

These articles started ranking well and this is what started the momentum with email signups.

After launching his product in the US, Connor started writing more long-form, pillar articles and his organic traffic has been steadily climbing over time.

SMS Post-Purchase Upselling

One of the more creative ways Connor is driving more business is through SMS or text messaging.

Connor said he can see some issues with using SMS in the future. But for now, it’s working great and he recommends people try it.

When someone inputs their phone number during the checkout, Connor has set a rule in Klaviyo to send them a text message after they complete their order.

The customer receives an SMS thanking them for placing an order, and they’re given a 50% off code if they add another item to be shipped with their current order.

Breaking Into Retail Stores

Connor was doing well on the retail side in Canada before making a dent in the online market in the states.

One of the first stores Connor got into was Whole Foods. Connor was actually approached by one of Whole Foods’ scouts, whose job is to look for new products.

What he did before being approached, however, was to get as many friends and family members as possible to go into Whole Foods stores and ask for Bluebird Provisions bone broth.

Connor said this raised awareness for his product and said he thinks it’s the reason why Whole Foods reached out to him.

Fulfillment and Logistics

Connor lives on the west coast of Canada, and his 3PL (third-party logistics) fulfillment location is in Michigan.

Connor said he’s never been to Michigan to see his fulfillment operation and doesn’t need to go there.

What this shows is that you can run a business like this from anywhere in the world.

When you’re vetting a 3PL, Connor said a “must-have” is checking they are able to plug into the Shopify shipping and fulfillment API.

This enables them to automatically ship your orders from Shopify, add the tracking numbers back into Shopify, and do everything else directly with your Shopify setup.

On the Amazon side, Connor is using Amazon’s FBA service. He holds inventory at his 3PL location and typically replenishes his stock every 2-3 months or as needed.

Revenue Pie Breakdown

Last year, Bluebird Provisions did around $300,000 in sales. Almost half of that came from retail sales, and the other half was split between Amazon and Shopify.

This year, Connor said he’s already on track to double his revenue and the pie chart is looking very different.

Retail sales are not currently growing, so Connor expects those numbers to be very similar to last year.

On the online side, Connor said Amazon has eclipsed his Shopify sales. He’s estimating this year’s revenue pie to be 25% retail sales, 50% Amazon, and 25% from Shopify.

Target Margins

For online sales, Connor said he aims for an 80% gross margin.

This gets eaten into by his fulfillment center taking 25-30%, plus Amazon takes 15% for every sale they make and another 15% for shipping and handling when using FBA.

On the retail side, Connor said he pays 5% for a broker to get his products on the shelves, 20-30% for distributor costs, and the stores typically mark the product up 35%.

There are more people getting a piece of the pie going through the offline chain, so you need decent margins to make it work.

Surprises and Mistakes Along the Way

“The Amazon snowball is real,” Connor told me.

If you can get a bit of momentum on Amazon, you can end up struggling to keep up with demand.

That’s a great problem to have.

On the other side, Amazon can be fickle. Connor was kicked off of the platform shortly after he started selling there and it took about two months to get his account reinstated.

“It’s a gift and a curse,” Connor said about selling on Amazon.

What’s Next?

“This year, we are trying to keep products in stock, which is becoming more of a challenge with freight issues,” Connor told me.

Connor is also developing a new product, a beef bone broth powder, which he’s hoping to launch mid-summer.

Outside of that, Connor said he’s just going to focus on doubling down on what’s already working, and figure out ways to effectively scale up his processes.

Conor’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

“SEO is not dead.”

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