Ashley Drummonds swears she got her ABS — authentic beauty and strength — from eating her concoction, ABS Protein Pancakes. They’re all natural, gluten-free, free of genetically-modified organism or GMOs and loaded with proteins and thin on carbs. They come in three yummy flavors: vanilla cake batter, cinnamon swirl and chocolate chip.
Shark Tank investors didn’t care much for the taste when Drummonds, a personal trainer, served it to them in a Jan. 5, 2016 episode of the ABC hit business reality show. They gagged upon hearing it costs $12 to $14 to make a one-pound package and that it retails for whopping $42.95.
Nevertheless, Drummonds managed to cook up a $120,000 deal with FUBU founder Daymond John for 42% equity. It was very close to her original ask of $120,000 for 40% of the company, valuing it at $300,000.
Before going on Shark Tank, the business had existed for only 11 months. It had about $120,000 in sales, through her website ABSPancakes.com, Amazon (AMZN) and some online affiliates. In the month following the Shark Tank appearance, ABC Pancakes gobbled up more revenue than it had in all of 2015. A San Diego, Calif. A factory makes the product while Drummonds and her boyfriend distribute it themselves from their Tampa, Fla. home. Drummonds hopes to roll out new holiday flavors in the fall.
Drummonds started the company with $30,000 from a private investor to cover her first run of production and order fulfillment. It officially launched on July 4, 2014, with an appearance on the ABC news station in Tampa.
Drummonds explains how she found an unmet need in the seemingly oversaturated health food market, convinced people to spend $43 for pancakes, her recipe for rapid business growth and much more.
Cooking up an Idea
Ky Trang Ho: How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Ashley Drummonds: Working in the fitness industry and even going through my journey, I was tired of hearing and seeing everyone looking for healthy products that tasted good and didn’t make them feel like they were eating cardboard. I went through numerous different products trying to find something that was high protein and all natural without a ton of sugar.
One of my favorite meals is breakfast and at the time that I started the ABS Protein Pancake line, there was no pancake or waffle mix on the market that didn’t have over 35 grams of processed carbs, preservatives, lots of sugar, with hardly any nutritional value to it. So I decided to just come up with something for myself that turned out to be a problem a lot of other people experienced as well.
My market covers a lot of different areas. For example, there is a huge place in the fitness world with athletes, competitors, and crossfitters who love the ABS Protein Pancakes because of the macronutrients that specifically fit their nutritional needs. At the same time, since the product is all natural and gluten-free. There is a huge market in the health conscious individual who prefers to stick to a paleo or all natural nutrition plan as well. Those who suffer from Celiac disease, a gluten allergy, absolutely love the pancakes because most gluten-free products don’t taste great.
I recently started receiving inquiries from Bariatric surgeons and weight-loss clinics who want to offer the ABS Protein Pancakes to their patient because it helps them stay on track long-term, so there are numerous markets for the ABS Protein Pancake line.
Ho: What made you think it could be a successful product and service (especially when there are so many competing products)?
Drummonds: I saw an opportunity for myself and was simply trying to find a solution to my problem. I also am a firm believer in your intuition or “gut instinct.” Once I had the idea I just knew in my gut that it was going to be big.
Ho: How many hours did you work on your startup per day?
Drummonds: Oh goodness, when I first was coming up with how to even create and package the product I worked about six hours a day personal training. Then in between clients, I would be at a coffee shop doing research and making phone calls. Then I came home at night and had my boyfriend help me until 10-11 p.m. with packaging the product. It easily was 12 hours a day for a few months just figuring out what to do and how to build it.
Ho: How did you go about making a prototype, sourcing the materials and finding a manufacturer?
Drummonds: Google. It’s amazing how much you can find out with the internet and simply be proactive with your goals. I simply did a lot of searching on Google for manufactures. I made phone calls and a lot of visits to manufacturers before finding the right one to come up with the samples that matched my formula.
Ho: What hardships did you encounter in developing and launching it?
Drummonds: I think the biggest hardship I experienced and most entrepreneurs do during a and is simply the whole “fake it till you make it” while figuring out what you are even doing. When talking to manufacturers and fulfillment centers, it is important that you don’t come across too naïve. A lot of businesses will take advantage of that and drive their prices up so research and ask tons of questions is key.
I also had a hard time simply managing everything while putting systems into place. When the ABS Protein Pancake product was first launched in July, I had no website and no system at all. But there’s no way I would say no to exposure and an opportunity. When the orders started flooding in it was my boyfriend and I working every day to mix, package, label, ship and handle all of the customer service sides of things until I finally had a manufacturer in place so it takes a lot of focus and just getting through the grind.
Getting the Sharks to Bite
Ho: What did the sharks like most about you, the company and/or product?
Drummonds: After the deal and speaking with Daymond, he said the main thing that made him make the offer was he saw my focus and discipline with the business. He wanted to be part of that. To grow a business from absolutely nothing to $120,000 in sales in 11 months takes a lot of focus and repetitive actions daily.
Ho: How did you prepare for your appearance? What made it a success?
Drummonds: I made sure I knew my numbers. I see so many people go on the show who don’t seem to know the inside out of their business. It shocks me because every single day I am in it and know exactly what is going on, how many sales, units, etc.
I think what made it successful is that when Josh and I were on the show and in front of the investors, we were 100% ourselves. We were honest about the challenges and the successes with the business, but also made it clear how committed and determined we were to succeed.
Ho: What about being in the Tank (or whatever happened before or after) surprised you the most?
Drummonds: How real the pitch and crazy negotiating is with what you see on TV. When you watch the show, you see the sharks going back and forth and talking over each other on the show. But you assume that when you are directly in front of them it may be slightly different. Not at all!
One of the most challenging things during the pitch was simply keeping up with all of the questions and making sure to answer each one efficiently. They tend to talk over each other and jump from one thing to the next. I also did not anticipate how big of a gap there would be between filming the episode and airing. It was all a huge lesson in being patient.
Ho: If you could do the show over, what would you do differently?
Drummonds: Absolutely nothing. I am happy with the outcome and very pleased with our pitch.
Ho: What misconceptions do you think viewers have about the show?
Drummonds: I think a lot of people go on Shark Tank or see a business on Shark Tank and assume if they got a deal they are overnight millionaires and are sitting back enjoying the high life after the episode. In reality, we still are in our businesses every single day working hard to continue to make it successful.
On top of that, the sharks don’t do deals just to hold your hand, and all of a sudden run your business for you. They provide support, mentoring and as much help as possible. But at the end of the day, it is still your business and still your dream that you are building.
Ho: What can you teach others about your Shark Tank experience? What are the secrets of a successful audition and appearance?
Drummonds: There is no guaranteed appearance, so there isn’t a secret formula to that. With a successful audition, the best advice I can give is simply to be yourself and be the best you can be. When all is said and done you have to leave it up to the universe to take care of the rest.
Ingredients for Business Growth
Ho: What are the next steps in working with the Sharks after getting a deal?
Drummonds: There is a due diligence process you must go through just to confirm the details of your agreement and your business. We started to discuss all of this about a month or so after we filmed our episode and got our deal with Daymond. We simply discussed the process, what the goals were, how to grow, and what roles we each would play in the partnership.
Ho: What do you hope Daymond John will do for your business? And how are you working together?
Drummonds: I hope Daymond will provide connections and resources from his years of being a successful entrepreneur that we did not previously have in our network. I also see Daymond as a mentor and someone who is constantly growing his business. So I hope to gain knowledge and experience in working with such a successful businessman.
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A Recipe for Reaching $1 Million in Sales
Ho: What are you doing now to move your business forward and expand?
Drummonds: Networking, educating, learning and connecting with other successful businesses to stay up to date with what strategies are working and which direction businesses are going. Ten years ago the first thing a business owner with my product like ABS Protein Pancakes would have wanted to get in the biggest retail stores.
However, now with the power of e-commerce, social media marketing, affiliate marketing, etc., I enjoy having my business online. It allows me to connect directly with my customers and hear what type of products they want, their feedback while also offering them new products and deals directly without having to worry about retail space.
Ho: What are your goals for your business over the next year and five years?
Drummonds: My goal is to continue to grow the business with affiliates and social media marketing. Obviously, I believe every new business has the milestone to hit 1 million dollars in sales, so that is a goal of mine. But even more so than that I want to make a positive impact on the way people see food and their bodies.
ABS is an acronym for authentic beauty and strength. I want to change the way people see nutrition and what you have to eat to be “healthy.”Over the next few years, I would love to speak to young women about creating businesses, entrepreneurship and building a life of their dreams without limits. I have a passion for empowering women. My goal is to use these experiences and opportunities as a way to help inspire other women to do the same in their own lives.
Ho: What is your media and marketing strategy? How do you acquire new customers and what are your customer acquisition costs?
Drummonds: Currently, I acquire a lot of my customers through social media marketing. Social media marketing is the biggest advertisement tool that so many people don’t utilize. When I first started the ABS Protein Pancake line, I used a lot of ambassadors and social media influencers to promote the product.
I didn’t have much of a budget for advertising so I would reach out to individuals who already had a large social media following and tell them about the brand. I asked if I sent the product to try if they would make a few posts about it. That helped grow my brand on a budget. Now, I am starting to incorporate more Facebook (FB) and Instagram ads. But I also use the power of a network with affiliate marketing with other people in the health, fitness and food space to cross promote products to our customers with.
Ho: What was the most effective thing you did to get more exposure for your business before going on Shark Tank?
Drummonds: I think the answer above would go along with this as well. I connected with a lot of the large social media influencers who loved the ABS Protein Pancake brand who were willing to share a few posts about it to their followers. I still do this to this day because when you have someone who has a trusted following endorsing how great your product is it helps get past that initial start-up hesitancy of customers not knowing the brand or the business when it comes from a trusted source.
Food for Thought
Ho: What business books do you recommend people read and why?
Drummonds: The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris: The resources in that book are endless especially if you are building a brand online and want to know how to outsource everything.
I also love Infinite Possibilities by Mike Dooley because it keeps you focused on the power of your thoughts and belief systems along with reminding you that your future is determined by your limitations. I currently am looking for an awesome female entrepreneur book.
Ho: What are your favorite business websites, tools or resources that you love and why?
Drummonds: I love Marie Forleo. She is the perfect example of how you can build the business of your dreams while also making a positive impact helping others build their businesses as well. For any entrepreneur with an e-commerce business, places like Upwork.com, Shopify Masters Podcasts, and digital marketing podcasts will be your best friends to help you hear from other business owners on how they are building their businesses along with the latest tools.
Ho: What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made in business and how can others learn from it?
Drummonds: This one is tough because I don’t think there is ever a mistake you don’t learn a ton from. It seems like more of a learning opportunity than a mistake. I guess one of the things I wish I would have focused more on in the beginning is listening to my voice and my vision of the business instead of anyone else’s.
I probably would have saved a little bit of time in not using outdated strategies or things that didn’t feel right to me for the ABS brand. Always listen to your own voice first then you can get feedback and second opinions from others. But when you are starting out in business, and you have no idea what you’re doing, it is easy to think that others who are successful know better than you do, which can be misleading.
Ho: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Drummonds: Do what is going to make you happy not what is going to make you the most money. I didn’t understand this the first time I heard it because I thought “well money is going to add a lot to my happiness.” But if you build a business only for the sake of making a lot of money, you will burn out fast. Your “why” will no longer be there to motivate you when times get tough or when you start to hit walls.
However, what makes me happy is helping people and coming up with creative foods to make it easier for people to stay healthy without feeling deprived. On days when business is slow, or I feel like I do not see the growth I want, all it takes is one email or comment from a fan who tells me how much the ABS Protein Pancakes has helped him/her. I am fired back up to keep moving forward.