Here’s how three young companies found remarkable success in five years or less.
The Direct Selling Association estimates that there are approximately 1,100 direct selling companies in business in the United States in any given year. It’s no secret that some direct selling startups never achieve the kind of momentum required to build and sustain a successful business. But we can point to examples of startups who had that something—the expertise, the vision, the infrastructure, the products, the message, the timing—to distinguish themselves and reach what Malcolm Gladwell, author of the New York Times bestseller How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, calls “The Tipping Point,” or the “The Stickiness Factor.” It’s that certain something—the culmination of a series of small decisions—that makes the difference between success and failure, and it may seem elusive.
In the last five years (since 2017), the direct selling industry has witnessed the remarkable growth of several startup companies. They were on their way long before the global COVID-19 pandemic was a reality and have successfully weathered the challenges of the last 19 months.
Based on our research, these are some of the fastest-growing startup companies that are five years old or younger and have current monthly sales of at least $1 million. Note: This isn’t an exhaustive list. If you’re not on it and should be, please let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Color Street
- Green Compass
- New U Life
- Red Aspen
- Scout & Cellar
- Tori Belle Cosmetics
- Zyia Active
This kind of growth is especially noteworthy when you consider the reality: Most startups fail. Here are some startling, albeit probably unsurprising, statistics about startup failure rates across all industries:
- About 90 percent of startups fail (Failory).
- 10 percent of startups fail within the first year (Failory).
- Across all industries, startup failure rates seem to be close to the same (SBA).
- Failure is most common for startups during years two through five, with 70 percent falling into this category (Failory).
- The number-one reason why startups fail is due to misreading market demand—this is found in 42 percent of cases (CBInsights).
Kudos to all of these direct selling companies for their extraordinary growth—made that much more extraordinary given the challenges of the last two years. Direct Selling News had a chance to speak to leaders at three of them to learn more about their rise to success.
An Unwavering Vision
“Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you.”—Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos. For QuiAri Founder and CEO Bob Reina, that vision was born during his tenure as a Deputy at the Hillsborough County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office. While serving in the role, Reina witnessed individuals and families with small children who were struggling to get by—many of them in poor health. “I wanted to help, but I didn’t have the means,” he says. “I turned to the direct selling industry to supplement my income and created a way to help others.” After becoming an independent distributor for another health and wellness direct sales company and working his way up through the top ranks, Reina launched QuiAri in 2019 based on a key ingredient: the Maqui Berry, after working with scientist Dr. Juan Hancke to develop a proprietary extract, MaquiX®, that supercharged Maqui’s antioxidant power up to 10 times and combined it with essential vitamins, minerals and greens to deliver benefits like weight management and improved energy. Just two years after the company’s founding, they have an independent sales force of 50,000 selling QuiAri products worldwide.
Sarah Shadonix had a vision, too. She left behind a career in law for the wine industry and later opened Scout & Cellar, a direct seller of wines that are free from toxic pesticides and synthetic processing aids and are low in sulfites. That vision, now trademarked as Clean-CraftedTM wines, is “our standard for growing grapes and producing wine that celebrates its most authentic form, from the ground all the way to your glass. While this certainly wasn’t the easy path, it defines who we are as a company and how we’re impacting people and the planet,” Shadonix says. Her vision has resonated strongly with the company’s nearly 20,000 independent consultants and their customers throughout the United States. Scout & Cellar has grown more than 70 percent year over year since its founding in 2017 and now has its eye on its next goal: becoming one of the United States’ top 30 wineries.
The vision of a startup should be an integral part of its culture, and it should be communicated at every opportunity. Reflecting on the key decisions and philosophies that made the difference for her company over the last four years, Shadonix says, “If your team doesn’t believe in the company and isn’t excited about where it’s headed, growth will be exponentially more difficult. From the get-go, it’s important to focus on building a community instead of just building a company.”
“A lot of companies go out and say ‘We want to be a $100 million company,’ and that sounds great, but that’s not really who we are,” says Jesse McKinney, Co-Founder and CEO of Red Aspen, a direct seller of beauty products that reached its first million within five months and its second million three months later. Last year, the company topped $20 million in sales. “If you put your Brand Ambassador and her needs first, the numbers will follow,” McKinney says. “If you can make women feel successful, motivated and valued—that their destiny can be their own—that’s what breeds an incredible culture, one where we can support one another. I’ve been fortunate in life to have many female mentors. It’s so important that we support one another and lift each other up,” McKinney says. “This is one of the places where that happens, and I’m so proud of that.”
Bold Decisions and the Freedom to Make Mistakes
Reina opened his company in more than 200 countries worldwide right out of the starting gate, bucking the typically cautious approach companies of all sizes take to international expansion. “We knew from the very beginning that we had the resources and experience to really make a difference and help people, so we decided to go all in without looking back,” Reina says.
The company had the IT infrastructure to support its ambition. Two of its more innovative offerings are Same Day Pay, which delivers commissions within five minutes to independent distributors (called Promoters) anywhere in the world; and a real-time “Free Tour” marketing system launched Sept. 1, which enables Promoters to build their business around the clock through a seven-day temporary position in the independent sales force while they learn about QuiAri products and the business opportunity. Current Promoters share the link with prospects and let the system do the explaining. Those prospects who decide to become Promoters within seven days may have the opportunity to lock in their position within the genealogy. The Same Day Pay benefit has proven to be especially attractive to prospects, Reina says, and it’s one of the top reasons people become QuiAri Promoters.
From the get-go, it’s important to focus on building a community instead of just building a company.—Sarah Shadonix, Founder / CEO, Scout & Cellar
Red Aspen launches a minimum of one new product every week (yes, you read that right). This kind of speed, McKinney believes, is precisely what keeps its distributors on their toes and engaged. “It’s a lot of work for us on the back end, but we always have something new and fresh to talk about.” Red Aspen’s marketing department moves just as fast. In addition to distributing its own content for distributors to share, the company involves the field in its marketing efforts, training them to make their own marketing material and selecting some for widespread use.
What made the difference during the pandemic?
Having the right infrastructure in place makes it possible for startups to take risks and course correct when necessary while remaining close to distributors. Under the leadership of McKinney and her cofounders, CSO Genie Reese and COO Amanda Moore, Red Aspen has made a deliberate effort to remain small and nimble, employing a staff of 50 at its corporate headquarters, dubbed “The Treehouse.” Everything—from shipping to customer support to logistics—is maintained in house. And, interestingly, the company’s sales force training and development materials aren’t behind a back-office firewall; they’re accessible to the public via the web in order to promote transparency about the company, its products and business opportunity. That and the company’s purely digital approach to sales and marketing (it uses no paper) have allowed Red Aspen to “get in front of more eyes faster than you would if you were throwing a party with ten friends,” McKinney says. “That’s lent itself well during the pandemic.”
If you put your Brand Ambassador and her needs first, the numbers will follow.—Jesse McKinney / CEO, Red Aspen
At QuiAri, Reina installed the kind of IT and brand development expertise necessary to support a billion-dollar organization before the company had made its first dollar. There was no time for a learning curve, he says, when his vision was for the company to grow quickly but organically. “Our business model is 100 percent scalable and 100 percent remote. After just two short years in business, we’re just getting started.”
More than 19 months after COVID-19 officially became a pandemic, we’ve once again been reminded of our industry’s inherent strengths: a business model that allows for flexibility, personalized service and the power of personal connections that can permeate even the most digitized of interactions, robust education and tools that make professional development possible from anywhere a distributor might be—and, of course, technology that makes processes like online sales, inventory management, customer acquisition and scalable growth possible.
Above all, though, leaning into their respective values may have been the single most influential differentiator in the ability of these successful companies to thrive at a time when so many others, both within and outside of our industry, struggled to stay afloat. In fact, if their examples can teach us anything, it’s that values anchor and guide an organization as it moves through the kind of change necessary for growth and longevity—whether those changes result from a global pandemic, the occasional misstep or simply a commitment to continuous improvement.
“Our principles shape every aspect of who we are, how we give back and how we approach business in general,” says Shadonix. “By staying grounded in those values, we’ve been able to remain true to who we are as a company through the opportunities and challenges that come with growth.” DSN
In the last five years, the direct selling industry has witnessed the remarkable growth of several startup companies.
From the November 2021 issue of Direct Selling News magazine.