Photo above: ASEA headquarters in Salt Lake City.
When Verdis Norton retired at 57, he had held high-level executive positions at multiple iconic food companies, most recently as Vice President of Strategy at Kraft Foods. He had created enough wealth and success that he would never need to work again. But as much as Norton loved to golf, he wasn’t content to spend all his time relaxing. Soon after his retirement, he went to work for a biotech company. When he retired from that job four years later, he still wasn’t ready to become a full-time retiree.
So when his son Tyler introduced him to another biotech company, he agreed to sit on the board. He was particularly fascinated by a technology the company owned. Using salt water, the technology created redox signaling reactive molecules identical to those found in the human body. These molecules are necessary for life; they allow cells to communicate with each other. They help with immune system function and cellular repair-and-replace mechanisms.
What makes this technology so unique is that there is no other method to create these molecules outside the body. And as a person’s body ages, they create fewer and fewer of these molecules. Norton recognized that if the redox signaling molecules could be used by the human body, they had great potential health benefits. Though he was skeptical at first, Norton studied the company’s research on the technology and found that the science was good. He was intrigued.
Using salt water, ASEA’s technology creates redox signaling reactive molecules identical to those found in the human body. These molecules are necessary for life and become fewer as a person ages.
The ASEA Story
When Norton attended the first board meeting, he discovered that the biotech company was out of money. In fact, they were about $1 million in debt. He made an effort to raise money for the company, but it eventually folded. Still, he wasn’t ready to give up.
Norton had made friends with a man who had moved to Park City, Utah, from New Hampshire, Jim Pack. Pack had retired at 43 from a very successful career in the communications industry. The two men enjoyed golfing together.
Pack says that he soon realized that Norton was something special. “I made the decision on the golf course as we golfed week after week that I was going to do something with this guy,” says Pack. One day they were golfing on the Park City municipal golf course. Norton started to tell him about a terrific product he’d been using. But the company was mismanaged. He told Pack he was going to put together an investment company to acquire this product.
“Jim pulled the golf cart over on the fairway,” Norton recalls, “and he reached in his back pocket and pulled out a folded check that was blank, and he said, ‘You got a pen?’ I handed him a pen, and he wrote a very big check and said, ‘Let’s go do this together.’ ”
Once they acquired the technology after further research to better understand why the product worked, the two men focused on stabilizing the redox signaling molecules. They knew that in order to sell the product they needed to extend its shelf life exponentially. They hired a team of scientists, including Dr. Gary Samuelson, and charged them with the task.
After months of work, the team succeeded. This was a huge breakthrough.
Finding the Right Channel
Once the product was stabilized, the possibility of selling it became a reality. Early on, the founders had the opportunity to sell the product to a global pharmaceutical company. But they ultimately decided not to. “ASEA is a foundational product,” says Executive Vice President Kurt Richards. “The fear was that if we sold the technology, rights, patents and all the research to a pharmaceutical company, it would either take years to bring to market, or they would never bring it to market at all.” The founders also worried that even if the pharmaceutical company did bring the redox signaling molecules to market, the product might be a specific treatment for one ailment. Then the general population would never reap the benefit.
“Because of the complexity of our product, there was the realization that
the product had to be sold with the story.”
—Chuck Funke, CEO
Ultimately, that’s what made the decision for Norton. He didn’t need to make more money or have more success. But he did want to make his mark. “I feel like this is my opportunity to make a difference that will last beyond my lifetime,” he told Richards.
Norton and Pack examined all possible distribution channels. “Because of the complexity of our product, there was the realization that the product had to be sold with the story,” says Chuck Funke, CEO. “And that’s how we got into network marketing.”
The Saltwater Challenge
Though the founders knew they had a great product, the science behind it was complex. How would ASEA convince customers that what they were selling wasn’t your garden-variety salt water—especially when those two items were the only ingredients on the label? Both because they wanted to bolster credibility and better understand how the product works, ASEA’s executive team has put a great deal of effort and capital into researching the product. A study conducted by the David H. Murdock Research Institute in 2012 confirms the presence of redox molecules in ASEA.
ASEA also increases the body’s production of natural antioxidants, glutathione and SOD by over 500 percent. This was discovered in an in vitro study performed by Pacific Northwest Institute in early 2009.
Perhaps one of the most promising studies was conducted by researchers at Appalachian State University and presented at the 2012 Experimental Biology Conference. The study results surprised even the researchers. After study subjects drank ASEA daily for a week, researchers discovered that ASEA had caused a significant metabolic shift in 43 metabolites, including fatty acids. This suggests that ASEA makes a person’s own fatty acids available to them, allowing users to burn more fat—especially the type that clusters in the belly and hips.
To date, ASEA has spent over $5 million on safety studies alone. All have shown the product to be completely safe for consumption.
Though explaining the product remains one of ASEA’s biggest challenges, it hasn’t held the company back. Six months after prelaunch, the company was already profitable. ASEA is completely debt-free. That’s due in part to the company’s strong customer base. “The product is so strong and the preferred customer program works so well that we have a very large base,” says Richards. “That means a stronger financial foundation.”
In fact, just three years after its official launch in 2009, ASEA expanded into Europe. It has been in Canada since 2010 and will open in Mexico later this year. Though this may seem quick, ASEA’s expansion has been done very cautiously. “Before we went into Europe, we spent eight to 12 months getting the product approved in Europe, getting all the proper registrations, setting up the proper companies, so that once we opened the market we wouldn’t have to worry about whether ASEA would have issues with regulators,” says Richards. “We waited until we had enough cash in the bank and enough dedication to make sure we did it properly.”
Today the company has nearly 30,000 active associates and is growing rapidly. A new initiative called the Triple A Plan is having a big impact. Following this plan, new Associates can build a lucrative business in 90 to 120 days.
Product in Demand
In order to support the company’s steady growth, ASEA opened a new $1.5 million production facility in August 2013. Its 33,000 square feet house offices, testing labs and a production floor. Storage and fulfillment take place in the warehouse portion of the building. The new facility will produce about 15,000 cases of product each week. That is only about 30 percent of the facility’s capacity, allowing plenty of room to grow as demand increases.
“Getting the facility online and doing that very quickly was an incredible moment for us,” says Vice President of Marketing Noah Westerlund. “We’ve been able to scale up our production and meet the market demand.”
“One thing we’ve always tried to stress is that your ego drive and your economic drive have to be underneath your principle drive.”
—Kurt Richards, Executive Vice President
Focus on Personal Development
Part of ASEA’s ethos is helping the company’s associates realize their potential. “Everything we do at ASEA is guided by a singular commitment to the personal development and education of our associates,” reads ASEA’s website. “One thing we’ve always tried to stress is that your ego drive and your economic drive have to be underneath your principle drive,” says Richards. With this in mind, Verdis and Tyler Norton share principles of their proprietary strategic and operational planning system, StrategicLink, in the training they give their associates. “At lower levels, we teach principles in general terms. As they increase in rank, we bring more of the steps in,” says Richards.
This training takes place in many ways, including the usual conference calls and webinars. But ASEA also does more intensive trainings for those who show promise at various ranks.
If associates hit certain ranks in a specified period of time, they’re invited to special events where this training takes place—boot camps, leadership summits and diamond retreats. They are shown what an average healthy business looks like at their rank. “It helps us to develop a road map for them. There are certain key metrics that we’ve identified, and then we train on those key metrics, leveraging our internal resources and our experienced field leaders. To give an example, one key metric is personal enrollment. Healthy associates at any rank have twice the personal enrollment of those who are not,” Westerlund says.
Finding a Voice Using Social
ASEA is committed to strengthening its social media. Recently, ASEA has stepped up its use of social media to connect with associates. “For us it’s not just a messaging channel,” Westerlund says. “It’s a conversation channel. As important as it is for us to post information, we want to follow others and get their reaction to us. We want to engage in those conversations and really give them a sense of who we are and make them feel included.”
One step that ASEA took was hiring Tyler Gray to manage the company’s social media platforms and grow ASEA’s online presence. Though he has only been at ASEA a short time, he’s already seeing progress. Within two months of his arrival, the company’s Facebook likes were up 12 percent.
“For us [social media’s] not just a messaging channel. It’s a conversation channel. We want to engage in those conversations and really give [associates] a sense of who we are and make them feel included.”
—Noah Westerlund, Vice President of Marketing
“Our TAT, or ‘talking about this,’ score is a solid 2.5 percent. The TAT is a good metric to see how current and engaged you are with your audience. If you have a lot of likes and no one is talking about you, it doesn’t say much,” says Gray, Marketing Communications Specialist. “But if you are a small company that has a high percentage, it means that your posts and communications are having a good effect.”
Since coming on board, Gray has tried to make social media more active, answering questions and engaging with people on social media frequently. Right now he’s working on finding the right “voice” for the company. “A big goal of mine is to communicate our culture—who we are,” he says. “But since I’m new, we’re still trying to find that voice. And as a growing company, it’s going to evolve.”
Creating a Legacy
As ASEA grows, its executives are beginning to consider how they can tweak their message. “Right now our messaging is so much about explaining the science. As we look forward, we’re beginning to focus more on the opportunity,” says Richards.
Funke agrees. “One of the primary initiatives we have for 2014 and beyond is to raise our opportunity message to match our product message,” he says.
One thing will not change: ASEA is committed to being a legacy company. “We seek longevity,” says Richards. “A lot of the decisions we make today reflect the fact that we’re thinking decades down the line.”
“That means we’re actually as concerned about controlling growth as creating it,” Funke says. “We’re all about consistency.”
Richards adds, “We want to provide distributors the opportunity to create a business that they can and will pass on to their family members. We plan on surviving well into the future to provide ASEA’s benefits to future generations.”