Hi Anthony and welcome! You are one of these guys that started a business in the middle of the economic crisis. What is your business about?
Anthony: Thank you for having me, I really appreciate the opportunity. I created and oversee a dietary supplement powder drink mix that prevents hangovers called THC-The Hangover Cure. My product is for sale online at www.drinkthc.com and through various distribution channels worldwide.
You told me that you’ve been laid off from a big company this year due to the economic crisis, so being laid off can be good sometimes?
Anthony: Being laid off was the best thing to happen to me in my post-college life for the simple fact that I don’t think I would have taken the plunge so soon otherwise. It’s hard to walk away from guaranteed income and a daily routine. And I think a lot of people are in the same situation, where you have a good job with a great company, or even a decent job with a decent company and you don’t necessarily hate your career, but you don’t love it, either. And that’s why I am so thankful I was laid off when I was, before I got married, had kids, all that good stuff, because it allowed me to take a chance at a young age.
Do you think you would have gone with the entrepreneurship path otherwise?
Anthony: I would have eventually, absolutely. I am just wired like that. I need that feeling of knowing that my actions directly affect revenue.
So what’s up with THC?
Anthony: Well it’s pretty much the most awesome invention ever 🙂 You simply mix it with water and drink before bed. People all over the world love it.
What makes THC different?
Anthony: Other hangover products have missed the mark entirely when it comes to marketing. They target health-conscious consumers and sell in places like Whole Foods and GNC. And that’s fine. But we target college kids and young professionals and sell primarily in liquor stores. I will give you one guess as to who probably needs hangover relief more on a Saturday morning: The wheat grass-shooting vegan or the fraternity pledge. It just makes sense to me.
How did you come up with the idea? I mean it’s a big step from IT to dietary supplements.
Anthony: Haha it really is. I grew up in a pretty healthy household thanks to my mom, and I guess a lot of that knowledge rubbed off on me despite my best efforts. When I was in college, it occurred to me that a hangover drink that was marketed right and actually worked didn’t exist. This was in 2004, before the ‘functional’ beverage craze was even on the horizon. I just knew that if marketed correctly, to the right audience, it would be successful.
And who exactly is your target demographic? I can’t help myself not thinking at a recent movie I saw: “The Hangover”
Anthony: Yeah, the guys from ‘The Hangover’ fit our target demographic pretty well. They like to party. It’s interesting that although our product is primarily marketed to Gen Y with the way our site is written, we have customers from all walks of life. So I have a hard time putting a label on our target market.
I had a look on your site and saw you are distributing THC on 5 continents. How did you do that?
Anthony: Every distributor I work with contacted us directly on our website looking for a new revenue stream. So that just comes with driving people to our site one way or another. We don’t actively seek out distribution so it’s flattering when people all over the world contact you with interest. Running an online business really opened my eyes to the global market place. And what I mean by that is, in places like the UK and Brazil and Kenya, that entrepreneurial spirit, that hustle, seems to be more alive than it is in the States. For example, I have a partnership in Scotland buying large quantities and setting up accounts with convenience stores all over Glasgow. Literally, going door to door, getting shop owners interested and setting up displays and collecting a cut of the profit. There isn’t enough of that in the States, which is a shame. Because that is business to me. ‘I have a product, do you want to buy it?’ Everything else is secondary.
Wow, had a look now and you are selling The Hangover Cure at the largest shopping mall in east Africa www.villagemarket-kenya.com . And you told me your fixed expenses for the distribution are $50?
Anthony: My company, by design, has very low operating expenses in general, yes.
Your business is mostly marketed online! What was the strategy behind this?
Anthony: Initially, I wanted to control all channels of distribution, which meant going direct to the end user and cutting out all middlemen to maximize profit. And that’s what I love about the internet, no more middlemen. If you put in more work than your competitors, you can dominate your niche for next to nothing online. It’s that simple. Because there is no competing product out there that spends an hour every day talking with potential customers on Twitter. No competitors are putting out the content we are. It was really just a conscious decision to have complete control over every aspect of a business, which the internet makes possible.
You are quite active on Twitter. How can a small business market itself on Twitter?
Anthony: I could literally spend hours ranting about how great Twitter is for business. You could put me on a desert island with nothing more than Twitter and I could stir up interest in any product, I have no doubt about it. It’s a fantastic platform that people are just beginning to grasp. A small business markets itself on Twitter by asking questions and starting conversations with potential customers via Twitter’s search function, which is like Google AdWords but better and free and puts you in direct contact with people actively talking about whatever you have to sell. If someone is Tweeting about being hungover, we will contact them in a non-spammy way and ask some questions, like what they drank last night. Is this time-consuming? Of course, but no one in our space is putting in that kind of work. I also love the fact that we use real Twitter testimonials from customers on our sales site. It’s the most legit form of customer testimonial I can think of and best of all, it’s completely free.
You seem to be a very energetic guy. Where does this come from and is it important for an entrepreneur?
Anthony: It’s funny to hear that because I think a lot of people that know me would say I am pretty laid back for the most part. In a way, I didn’t really have any constructive hobbies prior to starting my business. So I guess starting my own business stirred up some sort of fire in me, because I am miserably competitive with what I do. It’s not even that I fear failing, because I fail all the time and learn from those mistakes, it’s that I fear having to go back to doing something I don’t absolutely love to pay the bills. That’s what motivates me. That’s what gives me energy. And I didn’t have that when I was working for a large corporation. Just to give you an example, I routinely work until 1 or 2 am on weekdays. And I love it. If my previous employer had requested I come into work at 2 am on a Saturday, I probably would have quit on the spot. And that’s the difference; I care so deeply about what I am doing, it doesn’t even feel like work. It’s actually 2:00 am my time right now.
Humor. There is plenty of humor on the THC site. Is this a part of the marketing strategy?
Anthony: It is. You have to have a voice, especially starting out. People have gotten so good with ignoring and blocking out advertising that you have to stand out somehow. You have to get people talking. That’s exactly how we ended up on Thrillist.com. Because someone on their staff saw the THC homepage and thought it was funny. It was valuable content for their readers. I wanted to market The Hangover Cure in a way that would make me want to buy it, if that tells you anything about how my brain works. If no one else liked our marketing approach and we failed because of it, I would honestly be okay with that. Because at least I was honest with myself and did what made sense to me.
And what are the plans for the future?
Anthony: Continued retail growth and improving SEO through quality link building are what I am focusing on right now, which takes a lot of time. Hopefully creating some new jobs in 2010 for my friends. And making my parents proud.
Thanks for the interview! That was … refreshing! You can follow Anthony on Twitter and see how he is doing.