Build a great product/brand — Be highly focused on your product and build a brand that people can trust. Over time, a good marketing campaign is literally just that, so you’ll need to up the game and then start to focus on building the very best product and making your brand stick out to keep that growth going.
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 Luke Mahoney and John Levan who co-founded G-Plans, the first all-encompassing online nutrition program that creates customized meal plans based on a user’s metabolic body type, alongside celebrity nutritionist Dr. Philip Goglia. Luke and John both come from backgrounds of individually working with several Fortune 500 and start-up companies on sales, product expansions, and more. Through advanced technology and algorithms, Luke and John together plan to revolutionize the nutrition industry through G-Plans and take health data to the next level.
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?
Luke: One day, I was heading back to San Diego from Los Angeles and I was asked by my now father-in-law if I could take someone with me in the car. The man ended up being a 34-year-old entrepreneur who had already sold three companies and specialized in conversion rate optimization and online customer acquisition. We immediately hit it off. After that three hour drive, he asked me to come work for him. I did and never looked back.
John: As a kid, I was drawn to design and art. Eventually, I went to college and got a degree in design/journalism/psychology. After college, I realized that I could combine those three things to persuade people and, overall, market products. I ended up working for a few top agencies learning different aspects of business along the way.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Luke: When we first started G-Plans, we were very resourceful and used many of the great online tools available, like Fiverr and Upwork, to get things done. In the beginning stages, we needed developer help, but were quite specialized in what we did and used very advanced languages, which made it hard to find developers at that skill level. We took to Upwork and found this whiz kid, Alex Yanitskiy in Russia, who banged out a task that would normally take half a day in just one hour. He still works with us today and has a team of roughly 35 employees under him. We now visit him and his team in Russia about once a year.
John: When we first started the company, like most entrepreneurs, we had very little money. We were trying to get the business off the ground and simultaneously build our first version of our digital product. Needless to say it was a hard time — my car got repossessed and our bills were piling up. At that time we only had three people working at the company — Luke and one developer that worked with me on building the product and marketing funnels. After Version 1 of our product was done, it was time to market. We tried different strategies and realized that we didn’t have enough money to traditionally invest in an advertising spend. We were feverishly trying anything that would make a return on investment since day one. Then, in the final hour when we were on our last attempts, we saw our initial sales. It gave us just enough money to reinvest in our advertising (one step back, two steps forward). It was the foothold that we needed to keep doubling down on our success, which we did until we had 75 people on staff and hockey stick growth.
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?
Luke: Probably my dad, Peter. He ran his own small business in New Zealand. Ever since I was old enough, I would work at any given moment in the warehouse for a few bucks an hour. My dad taught me a very strong work ethic and instilled confidence in me to do whatever I wanted from a young age. I remember the day I told him I wasn’t going to go to college and that I was instead going to travel the world, which is what ultimately brought me to America. We were in the kitchen and he looked at me and said, “I fully support your decision, but I want you to know that you’ll never have anything to fall back on so you’ll have to work harder than the next guy every single day.”
John: I would say probably my co-founder Luke. He and I were able to find a way to dream big even while things were bleak. Each of us had ups and downs through building the company, but I think our ability to continue to look ahead at the darkest of times was unique to most businesses that I had been a part of before. This mind set certainly played a huge role in our ability to lean on each other in times of need and keep the dream alive.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Luke: “Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” My business career has had so many ups and downs. I personally am involved with five companies, all in different niches. So dealing with the roller coaster of being an entrepreneur is always a challenge. It’s important to keep a level head and put emotions aside when you’re dealing with any and all of the challenges that are thrown at you everyday.
John: It is rumored that, as a child, John Lennon had a conversation with a teacher:
The teacher asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Lennon replied, “Happy.”
Teacher said, “You don’t understand the question.”
Lennon replied, “You don’t understand life.”
One of the takeaways from this little exchange is that you have to find the joy in what you do, because at the end of the day you’ll need to love what you do to be able to get through the struggle of starting something new. Getting into business, a lot of people are focused on money and the life that comes with that — but just going for money alone will not be what drives you through your darkest moments while becoming a successful entrepreneur. The meaning has to be deeper than that. For G-Plans, it is about helping people live a happy, healthy life. It’s the positive effect that our company has on people that keeps us motivated.
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?
G-Plans cuts through the noise in the forever changing health industry. It teaches people how to eat healthy in a sustainable way and ultimately hit their weight loss or health goals.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Unlike other one-size-fits-all weight-loss programs, G-Plans’ health technology leverages valuable information gained through a metabolic survey and blood lipid tests. These test results then provide users with tailored approaches to losing weight, gaining muscle, increasing energy and planning for a healthy future.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
In the early days, it was simply finding success. For us, success wasn’t necessarily money, it was more about freedom to do whatever we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
Providing for our families and living the life we want to live. We are fortunate to be able to do a lot of amazing things everyday.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Outside of G-Plans, we (along with other team members) recently took over The Loma Club, a 100+ year old, historic 9-hole golf course in San Diego’s Liberty Station neighborhood. We feel that golf has not really evolved from the country clubs with rules and regulations for years now and we think we can flip that on its head with this new concept. Our courses will always be fun, offer music and great food and drinks without all the rules and kind of poking fun of that country club atmosphere, in a tasteful way. We feel this concept could evolve to many courses around the country.
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?
Trying to do it profitably. G-Plans has never raised any capital, so everything we have done has been achieved at scale, profitably. Really knowing your numbers is imperative to our company in order to spend that kind of money every day and employ 70 people and not lose our shirts!
Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?
We are 100% DTC online, so the number one strategy we have used is our unique understanding of online customer acquisition and conversion rate optimization. We are relentless with our marketing, and test and iterate all day everyday to improve performance of ads and funnel.
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?
Funniest yet, one of the best mistakes was probably Luke doing customer support for the early months and pretending like we had a support team. It turned out to be one of the best things we’ve ever done as it drove our product decisions. But, overtime, it got to be too much to handle with 600 customers on the platform back then.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
G-Plans does not have a sales team as we are almost entirely DTC.
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.
- Talk to your customers relentlessly with surveys, polls and customer support outreach to learn what is missing, what they need, and how to serve them better.
- Know your numbers — Really understanding your numbers and contribution margins will help you really scale your marketing. If you have really good ROAS in your campaigns, then you need to be pushing your marketing harder.
- Focus on retention — Once you have a solid pipeline of customers coming in the door, focus on how to retain them, and sell more things to your best customers.
- Get everyone focused around growth. At G-Plans, we offer incentives for growth to literally every employee and we are constantly talking about growth numbers every single week to get everyone aligned on this goal.
- Build a great product/brand — Be highly focused on your product and build a brand that people can trust. Over time, a good marketing campaign is literally just that, so you’ll need to up the game and then start to focus on building the very best product and making your brand stick out to keep that growth going.
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”?
Soak up and learn as much as you can about the online space and about generating customers, leads, etc. for your business online. The power of online is quite simply amazing when done right and can be beneficial for any and all businesses — large or small, with big budgets or even small budgets.
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?
For us, attracting the right customer has always been difficult because we specialize in cold traffic conversion (people who have never engaged with our brand). However, what we do really well is look at the data points we have available to us and double down on the quality customers once they are into the product. Chances are the engaged users are going to spend more money and become brand champions for you, which all helps to drive a better quality customer overall.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Speak to your customers all the time. Do surveys, polls, ask for reviews, and have really good lines of communication with your customer support team. Same goes for marketing and front end. You will learn a lot, like features needed, things that are missing, and where you should go next!
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?
Yes, this is 100% right and a big focus for our business at the current time. What we do now gets a little technical. But in short, we test on the front end marketing, we test as aggressively on the back end (product), and watch the data points on a daily basis. We are constantly tweaking the first seven day experience to make it clearer for the user because data shows if you can get people through the first seven days of your app, there is a much higher chance they will stick around. Another thing to think about is the old adage of the right piece of content at the right time. We monitor user behavior and if we see problems, we offer a solution right there with a targeted message.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are both people 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. 🙂
Luke: I’ve always had a passion for anything to do with the ocean, sea life, etc. and hate the fact that we are overfishing our seas and in many cases polluting our oceans. So, I’ve always talked about trying to do something in the sustainable seafood industry to limit our impact and hopefully clean up the oceans in the process!
John: Broadening the conversation about mental health and well being would be a big focus for me. I believe that the rapid growth of technology and information will affect our society in a massive way that we are not fully aware of yet. These advances could be amazing, but could also be divisive if not addressed properly. I would like to play a part in harnessing the power of technology to aid our mental health and connecting people could change the way we interact as people and ultimately lead us to better outcomes all across the world.
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 🙂
Luke: I have always been a big fan of Richard Branson. I love his charisma for living a full life and being a good human being all around.
John: Ray Dalio or Scott Gallowy. I think both people take a macro view on how to analyze a big picture problem and break it down to chip away at the problem. I think that skill seems to be at the heart of most business/life problems.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!