Money is number one — always. You have to risk using your own money to get to a place where someone else will give you money. Don’t expect to be successful or have any success if you’re doing it on a shoestring budget.
As a part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Duitch. Duitch, Founder and CEO of Sera Labs, has over 30 years’ experience as an entrepreneur and leader in the consumer products industry. She has founded and developed several diverse businesses from start-up to public company level, and she has executed state-of-the-art campaigns generating over 3 billion dollars in revenue for some of the most well-loved consumer brands. Her creativity, ability to develop talent, and effective utilization of multi-channel strategy for optimal ROI has consistently positioned Nancy as an industry leader.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It all started when my younger brother, who was 20 years old and captain of the lacrosse team at University of Connecticut, was working out in Wyoming for summer between his Junior and Senior year, and he went camping. He went to sleep one night and never woke up again. He missed his 21st birthday by 10 days. I think that shaped me as a human being because it was so traumatic. I was only 24 at the time.
Then two years later, my mom was visiting me and we got a phone call that my sister had suffered cardiac arrest in her dorm room at 19. She was in a coma for six weeks. She spent six years in rehab. She wasn’t able to get back to normal again, but she got married and had a baby. Then at 29, she died.
After these two tragic events I found out that we had a heart condition in my family called Long QT syndrome. I started a major charity and this is what really got me on my entrepreneurial path and what shaped me to not let anything happen that’s bad and, with everything bad that’s happened, how can you make something good come out of it.
So we started a foundation to study sudden death from cardiac arrest in young kids and young adults. My husband and I raised millions. I always had that fire in my belly to do good but also to make it successful. We were able to discover the cause of this disease and we were able to get treatments to people, get defibrillators on every airline, pass anti-discrimination acts against kids born with genetic disorders, and do so much good in the world. We made something out of nothing, and that’s what I’m really good at doing — taking zero and making something out of it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I could give you a hundred stories, but I’ll tell you my first story. I had a job interview with a pharmaceutical company in the 70s right after I graduated with high honors from Temple University. I walked into the meeting to see just one man sweating with a white t-shirt on, his buttons popping open, and he said to me, “where do you see yourself in five years?” I said, “I see myself as the president of your company.” The man looked right at me and said “I think you’re better off leaving and going to get an Mrs. degree.” I went home and asked my mom what that meant because I didn’t understand what he meant, but I caught on fast after she explained.
After this experience, I realized how men were going to treat me in business and I decided that I was going to fight for myself. I realized that if I wanted to be successful, I was going to have to do it on my own, and I was going to have to be my own boss. I was fortunate enough to have had some great mentors and a lot of luck along the way. Good mentors, a lot of luck, and an entrepreneurial spirit.
A lot of my lesson-learning stories are really about being a female in business and how people treated you. I can take you through decades and tell you, okay in the 90s, I wasn’t considered a nice person because I’m business-oriented. If I was a guy, they would have just said that he’s a good businessman. But in the end, I’ve been able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. I’ve been able to really put my blinders on and walk forward and learn from my failures, too. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in business but thank God the last 10 years have been great years for me. I’ve hired bad people and good people, and now I learned from Jack Welsh that I should hire slow and fire fast.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have three people that I’m really grateful for. The first is my husband, who’s a CPA, who taught me the importance of strategy. I’ve taught him about creativity and thinking outside the box, and he’s taught me about strategy, legal, and to make sure I’m buttoned up in everything I do.
But besides my husband, who is a great businessman, I’m also thankful for a man named Peter Spiegel. He was my boss when I was working for him in the mid-90s at an infomercial company. He was very patient with me and he allowed me to start my own division in his company in my first full year with him. He mentored me and I made the company 33 million dollars of profit that year.
He was my true mentor and we are still very close. I look at him with great honor and respect that he is probably one of the best marketers I ever met in my life. He taught me that, when I am in business, it’s not about me. It’s about the person I’m serving. It’s not whether I like what I’m doing: whether it’s a product that I’m making or a service I’m delivering to the consumer. It’s about what the consumer is thinking. What’s in it for the consumer, and how are they going to accept this product. I’ve lost sight of that a couple of times and always remember going back to Peter and him telling me, you are not your customer. It’s a great lesson for everybody to learn and know that she or he is not me, and they will most likely not look at things the way I do. He taught me so much about being kind to people, as well as being firm with them, so you can be firm and kind and not take crap from anybody.
The third person I am thankful for is a man named Earl Greenberg — he was amazing. He was a great connector and he introduced me to the right people, who then became my business partners. He guided me away from people that I couldn’t read as well back then as I do today. He was a very successful businessman in the entertainment industry, as well as in the home shopping TV industry. He knew how to read people really well and taught me who I should surround myself with.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
For me, it would be “family first”. My business is always right up there with my family. I’ve been very fortunate to raise not only my kids, but my husband’s children from his first marriage and my nephew after my sister passed away. I’ve always been surrounded by a lot of love. I always try to give back as much love as I get from people.
The motto that I live by is “give back to people what they give to you” and I try to inspire all of those around me with the gifts that I have. Just because someone comes to work every day and believes that they are good at something doesn’t mean that I can’t try to figure out what makes them a better person and inspire them to be an expert in the area they’re passionate about. That’s why I love to mentor people — to give back what was given to me.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
We started out creating an anti-aging beauty line with high-quality ingredients and delivering it to women of all ages and demographics. Our goal was to create products for every man and woman that utilizes CBD and other natural ingredients.
As we have evolved, what we have recognized is that not only have we grown our product line, but we have developed other products more than the face but for the body that are all natural. We have quickly become a leader in health, wellness, and beauty for topical products in innovative technology advancements in the nutraceutical and cosmeceutical worlds.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
First of all, we only market and sell products that have extremely high-quality ingredients. Also, we don’t do what we can’t do. We are not growers of hemp or extractors but are expert marketing people, so we lean into the fact that we are great at creating magnificent packaging and creating stories around our products that resonate with a consumer.
When I build something and my products get out there, I spend money on advertising in an omni-channel way so that people know what my products’ benefits are. Most people don’t know their unique selling proposition. They need to ask themselves “what are the benefits of my product? What makes them different from everybody else’s?” It’s important to know how much you should spend on advertising and how you brand. The person that brands and becomes a well-known brand is the company that will succeed at the end of the day.
People buy brands that make them feel better and look better and make them want to purchase because they trust them. If you become a trusted brand, you’ve won. That’s what we have been striving for, and we’ve been pretty successful with it, too.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation? What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
Our mission at the very beginning was to make a lot of money, but for a purpose, and to deliver the best quality CBD. Then we realized that was narrowing our market so much on the CBD that we needed to expand it to plant-based products. Because that’s what CBD is anyway: it’s a plant-based product.
So how do we expand and how do we change our mission? Our mission was to be the best quality CBD products. Now our mission is to be a leading health, wellness, and beauty company with innovative, cutting edge, superior quality ingredients.
So we’ve really come a long way, and I think our mission has pivoted, more so than changed. We were super focused on retail, which we always are, but we’re more focused on e-comm because of COVID-19 and the environment today. I’m a big believer that you have to evolve with what’s going on in the world around you. That is what is happening with us for the last 10 months and probably for the next five or six months, too.
We have really grown our business a lot, and having an actor such as Nicole Kidman as a strategic partner in our company allows us to market and advertise and get our message out there.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
First of all, we were acquired in October by a pharmaceutical company, CURE Pharmaceutical, that has created fantastic technologies to deliver nutraceuticals, wellness products, as well as drugs for cancer research and antivirals and other potential drugs to improve people’s lives. Our goals are very much aligned, and they have the science and clinicals behind it to help us innovate.
They have a product line that they call the oral thin-strip. Instead of taking a vitamin or a pill, you can put the strip that has all the nutrients you need on your tongue. It rapidly activates on your tongue and you feel the effects of that product rapidly. We used this technology to create a few nutraceutical products and named it Nutri-Strips. We started off with a few innovative items such as Sleep A.S.A.P for sleep; a strip for energy; and another with 40,000 IUs of vitamin D that you take once a week.
We’re coming out with four new products in the Fall, but we have really just launched this in December and we’re seeing fantastic results online.
The other project that we are launching is a new line of Seratopical skin and body care products called Seratopical Revolution. It’s for the mass market and will have no CBD in it. But it will have a delivery system that has been created by the pharmaceutical company. It is patented and improves skin with skin enhancers and regenerator collagen, so we’re very excited about that. It will be very affordable for everybody at the mass-market level.
The topic of this series is ‘Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue’. Congratulations! Seven figures is really a huge milestone. In your experience what was the most difficult part of being able to hit your first million-dollars in sales revenue?
Considering this particular business, the most difficult part about reaching seven figures in revenue was how much money I was going to put into it to get there. But with that being said, the other challenge was with CBD. In 2018, when I started this company, you couldn’t sell it anywhere except maybe email marketing. No credit card processor was willing to process your payment for you online, so how are you going to do it? I’m always super risk-averse and I would never have done anything without getting a bank to back me. I called one of the biggest banks in the world, and one of the largest payment processors, that I’d been using for years, and they basically said, yes, we will process CBD topicals for you.
In our first five months of business, because of our expertise for building websites and our great development team (I funded this myself), we were able to make 1.7 million dollars. I was really proud of this and we raised money from a private equity fund so we could go into retail.
I raised a couple million dollars in February 2019 and we raised a little bit more after that. But in the meantime, we were making money and were doing well. We did 4.5 dollars in 2019. CBD was very difficult to sell to retail outlets and everyone thought it was the gold rush, but the fact there were many gray areas and no compliance guidelines from the government. This made it very difficult but we have done extremely well.
It takes money and the right team. I brought a great team of operators, finance people, and marketers together. That’s the most important thing: you can’t do it yourself. You’ve got to have people that are better than you are in their areas of expertise. So you need money, you need people, you need systems in place, you need a strategy, and you need to have quality products. Whatever your product is, whether it’s a technology, whether it’s something that you can touch and feel, or whether it’s something like I’m doing, which is a commoditized product category that people use on a regular basis. And you need to be a leader, too.
Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?
I’ve always had a fire in my belly, and I’ve been super lucky in business. I think that with this particular business, the strategy was to sell my company within two years, which I did, and have the freedom and funding to get to where I want to go. I’m looking at the big X here, so I’ve taken the steps. But I also think that I am a lot more fortunate because I’ve had so many ups and downs and failures and learned from the failures and learned from the successes. I’m not a young kid who is starting out for the first time doing this. A lot of companies in the CBD space have, say extractors, come in and spent a lot of money on salaries and facilities and missed where the money should go. I’m super frugal and I think that you’ve got to look at every penny somebody gives you as your own money and spend judiciously.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you or your team made during a sales process? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was looking for someone to run my online business. I was talking to a number of people, and this one guy was so aggressive. He flew out to California to meet me, and I don’t know why but I didn’t check his background. I was kind of forced to bring him into the company as a small partner. He did a great job on the sales, but what I didn’t know was that he was taking money from the company and doing things he shouldn’t have done. It took me five months to get proof of what he was doing and be able to terminate him and get him out of the company.
It was at a time when I was raising money and I had to sue him to get him out and spent a lot of money on lawyers. This is why I always do background checks on people ever since. Shame on me for making that mistake.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
I was very fortunate that in my career I knew all the sales representatives. I come from the health, wellness, beauty, and fitness industries and am fortunate to have a great network of sales representatives in these industries that have relationships with the retailers. Having those great relationships is the only way you can get out there and get the sales. When I was raising money, I got a call from my old VP of Sales who I love and adore. He’s retired and he says, “I’m tired of being retired, can I come work for you?”
Not only do I trust John because he is amazing at what he does, but he’s a marketing genius on top of it. I was getting two employees for the price of one. Then, we hired a doctor who had his own CBD company but couldn’t make money at it. I’ve got great project managers and support teams for them.
And I have myself. I love to go out and sell. What I have found is that it’s the network that they manage when they go out and sell, the operations team, the marketing team, the project management, and finance team. They’re really supporting these people and helping get their job done.
Trust me you can’t do that without really smart, clever people. I always say sales lead, but it’s the pennies from finance and operations that they save that make you all your money.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”. Please share a story or an example for each.
Money is number one — always. You have to risk using your own money to get to a place where someone else will give you money. Don’t expect to be successful or have any success if you’re doing it on a shoestring budget.
Next, make sure that you have the right people in place. I say always have a good finance person, a good operations person, and a good marketing person if you’re not one.
Then, it’s your connections. You have to use every connection you have and everyone else you know has, but, if you don’t have a good business plan, and you can’t articulate that business plan, you’re never going to get to second base.
Lastly, you need realism — always be realistic about where you can go. I always tell everybody with this third strategy: research, research, research. Research your competition. Research the market you’re trying to get into and make sure your marketplace is big enough for your dreams to become a reality. Don’t be a dreamer — be a realist. You can still be the idealist and have that dream, but you have to put it on paper. You need to think about
- What’s my vision?
- What are the objectives?
- Tactically, can I get there?
- How long will it take me to get there?
Keep your dream alive in your vision, but make sure you understand what tactics you need to have that dream come true. Dorothy didn’t start at the end of the rainbow; she started before the rainbow. Do not look at failure as your end game. Look at failure as a lesson learned.
What would you advise to another business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
I think everybody has that problem at different times. You have to look at what you’re selling, you have to look at what your business is, and take a look at what your competition is doing and see how you can evolve to kind of get that paradigm shift. You’ve got to always be looking at everything.
I write everything down. In the middle of the night, I get many ideas. I can’t go back to sleep again until I write them down. A great example is that March came around in 2020, and we were on track to do approximately 10 million dollars this year. We were getting orders from retailers and were super excited. Next thing you know, everyone is in quarantine and no one can come to the office. What do we do?
All of a sudden, people start canceling their orders. Thank goodness for e-commerce because that is doing okay. John, my head of sales, and I began talking and asking each other “What are we going to do? We have to do something. Otherwise, we’re not going to be anywhere close to our target this year. I wanted to sell the company; it was my mantra everyday. So John said to me, “Do you want to sell PPE?” I told him I didn’t want to sell it online, but I would be very happy to buy some and give it to people who need it, like to some hospitals.
So April rolled around, and he said, “I just talked to one of the distributors, and they want to buy a million sets of masks.” We took the business that we would have gotten, and we figured out a way that we didn’t have to lay out the capital for this and we did over 3.5 million dollars in PPE in over just a few months to get back to where we should have been.
It’s all about looking for those opportunities that may not fall in your plans, but grab them when you can and try to figure out how you can make them work. That’s how your business can survive, so that you can get your products back on. But if you think the same thing you sold two years ago is going to sell tomorrow, it won’t happen. Always evolve. Always look for something innovative. If you’re an innovative marketing company, you will be very successful.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
We are very good A-B-C testers online. We will test different messages, copy, and images. For example, I did an infomercial many years ago called Hercules Hook. When I got the project, I had bought this retail company. John, who’s my head of sales now, was president of it. I tell him, “This is a terrible product. Who cares about hooks? Nobody can make a hook work?” And John told me, “I think this is a great product.” So I told him to show me the numbers but they were terrible.
But a woman who was with me, and is still with me, Maryann said, “I think this is a winner of a product.” I told them that they were crazy but Maryann insisted that we test it. I told them I didn’t want to because the numbers didn’t add up.
After that she suggested, “Why don’t we just do a focus group with some of our female competitors who we are close with?” So we did. I asked them to take a look at the commercial and tell me what they thought. Turns out, they all thought it was a great product. I’m the only one who didn’t.
So I asked them what was wrong with it. They told me, “We don’t think we’re strong enough to put the hook into the wall.” There were no women in the commercial who did it — only men. I called the company in the morning and said, “Let’s just switch the women.” We put the women in the commercial, and we went from losing money to making 100 million dollars a year for many years after that. So always test. You never know what the consumer is going to latch onto and what’s going to create a critical mass. Similar to what we just did with Nicole Kidman. We brought Nicole on as a strategic partner and a global brand ambassador.
On Thursday, we got a post from Reese Witherspoon thanking Nicole for her gifts from Seratopical. Nicole had sent products to fifty of her friends and Reese Witherspoon posted a story on Instagram that thanked Nicole and she tagged us and Nicole with all the products that she gave her. Nicole then posts a seven second video of her getting ready for Jimmy Fallon’s show. It was an in-feed video of her putting on our product Love Your Eyes, and within two hours, we received 37,000 dollars in orders. Then what happened was Michelle Pfeiffer did the same thing Reese did, and then all of a sudden Lily Rabe did it, and then Kelsea Ballerini did it, and Sarah Paulson did it, and Naomi Watts.
So when you are looking for sales, get a spokesperson. Nicole is more than a spokesperson, she’s a strategic partner, but you should get somebody like Nicole Kidman who believes in your vision, believes in your product, wants to see it successful and is willing to participate in what you do.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Communication with the customer. We have drip and remarketing emails that we send to our customers. For example, we offered a free gift with every purchase of Love Your Eyes on Thursday night, so we sent out an email on Friday to everyone who bought the product and we offered them a 20% discount on their next purchase of our product. You should always communicate in a positive way. Customer service is very important. If a customer wants to return a product, we send out a new package. We don’t ask any questions. We always believe the customer is right and we take care of our customers. It’s really important that you get good reviews for your service as well as your product.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Legalize cannabidiol (CBD) in this country!
Honestly, as a female executive today, I think that women still aren’t looked at with the same level of respect that men are in our positions. With all the growth that people have done in the country, I think that there’s still a lot of men who still have a really difficult time with a female boss. It would be great to see a movement that educates people to see people for who they are rather than their gender or race. If the female executive is the better person to lead the company, then hey, you need to respect that and you need to learn from those people.
I just believe that mentorship and education on leadership is very important, especially for women on how to behave and how to deal with employees. That would be a movement I’d be very interested in getting involved with — always mentorship.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Elon Musk, for sure. I find that Elon goes against the grain, as I have, in life. He’s a thousand times smarter than I am, but he has succeeded with innovative technology. He’s succeeded in building his dream in a way that has changed the world. People who are changers of the world but have both feet on the ground and understand what they’re doing and where they’re going are people that I would love to sit down and talk to sometime. That would be just mind-boggling.
He’s a guy who’s going to send people to the Moon, right? He’s a guy who’s going to build a battery that’s going to last for hours upon hours. He built my car. That guy that is so smart that he’s able to run all these companies at one time. I don’t know how he has a personal life.
I feel like he’s someone that I would love to sit down with and talk to about motivating people and how he can run all these different companies in different businesses and be successful. It is incredibly impressive to say the least.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!