A lot has changed since COVID began and I last wrote about my anxiety around it. It’s been a surreal journey as I look back and recount all the decisions we made to get to where we are today. A quick summary is due on what I’ve been up to and the progress we’ve made.
In May 2020, we launched WellBefore.com, which is a medical supply e-commerce/DTC brand. If you had told me back then that we would generate ~$50 million in revenue with virtually zero marketing spend in the next 20 months, I would’ve quickly dismissed you. TBH, if I actually had that information beforehand, I probably would’ve figured out a way to double that revenue (if I’m being truly sincere to my ego).
WellBefore had every single reason to fail. We had zero expertise or knowledge about medical supplies, specifically our flagship products, the N95 & KN95 masks. I prolonged entering the medical supply and PPE hemisphere until about May 2020, which was 3 months after every single person/company had already pivoted into the space as a source of revenue and quick profits. 3 months in COVID time is basically equivalent to 3 years in real time where things change by the hour, so it’s safe to say we entered the scene very late. We didn’t even have proper fulfilment set up to ship products to the end consumers. And to top it all off, the PPE space was so rampant with fraud and price gouging that I had to question every single decision I made multiple times for the first 18 months of the company. Did I also mention that everyone and their grandma’s was selling PPE?
This was no way to start a new company; the odds were stacked against us.
Fast forward to today, we’ve donated over 2 million medical supplies. We have over 500,000+ customers. At this moment in time, we have 40,000+ reviews averaging over 4.8/5 stars on our products and customer service. We’ve been commended by leading media brands such as the New York Times (twice). Even better, our brand is talked about by real people on social platforms every single day. We have proven that we can build a company that prioritizes purpose and profit at the same damn time.
How did you do this? is a question I get asked often, and it is one that I have reflected on multiple times. Even today, it shocks me as I look back on this journey and think about how fortunate we’ve been. My answers may change and evolve as life goes on, but at this point in my life, I can sum it up to 5 factors that have contributed to our success: rewiring, experience, creativity, customer obsession, and my team. Let’s get into it.
First was rewiring my brain and our mission. I mentioned earlier that we entered the space 3-4 months late. The idea of selling PPE was pitched to me in Feb. 2020 but I didn’t officially enter the space until May 2020.
Now, why did I intentionally prolong our entry?
Because the medical supply/PPE industry was so damn shady and slimy that I couldn’t risk losing my reputation over making a “quick buck.” My name has taken me over a decade to build and the thought of losing it in less than a month made me sick to my stomach. Price gouging, low quality products, and counterfeit PPE were so rampant that I would have recurring nightmares about being highlighted on CNN as one of the “pandemic profiteers” who let their greed take over their morals.
But I finally found a sense of comfort around the time that I turned 31 in April 2020. This is when I stopped making it about me. At that time, the segment of the population that was suffering the most, in my opinion, were the end consumers (us): they were paying $5-$10 per mask and had no way to tell if it was actually going to protect them. At the same time, the FDA and CDC were having a tough go with making recommendations with the amount of mask brands around the world that had launched seemingly overnight. While everyone else was competing over high volume, one time B2B accounts such as hospitals, government agencies, and large businesses, we decided to focus on the everyday consumer. I rather sell 1,000,000 masks to 100,000 individual customers whom I can build a stronger connection and loyalty with than 2-3 B2B (business to business) customers that will move their business if someone is offering them .05 cents cheaper.
That’s when it finally clicked.
This wasn’t about my reputation. This was about saving lives, and that overused phrase we hear everyday: “making a positive impact.”
So, I rewired my brain and started to believe I could do my part. I told myself that I would use my resources (money), my experience (manufacturing), and my expertise (customer acquisition), to make a difference for the end consumer – people like you and me. I would buy 1 quality medical grade mask for $2.75 and sell it to the end consumer for $2.95, shipped straight to their door so that they can be protected. Because it was the right thing to do.
And it worked. We lost money early on, but customers took notice. Renowned university labs tested our products and gave us their seal of approval. Our customers thanked us. They sent us referrals. They left amazing reviews. They taught us how to improve our products. They championed our mission and spread our name. Our word-of-mouth was, and is, one of the strongest I’ve seen in any of the companies I’ve invested in or have started.
We, as a company, actually believe we have saved and are still saving many lives. Without this rewiring, we wouldn’t have been able to make this type of impact.
The second way we were able to pull this off was due to our experience. Through my first company, Blue Track Media, I already had intensive knowledge on how to acquire customers without the help of Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Since the start of COVID, and even at times today, these big 3 behemoths blocked all companies from advertising medical products to the end consumer due to the same reasons of price gouging, inferior quality, and fraudulent products. TBH, I’m not happy with the way they have been and are handling this today. Think about it – their customers desperately needed high-quality products, and their collective response was to ban every single product because they couldn’t figure out which companies were legit or not.
Anyway, in a way it was a blessing in disguise because we were able to tap into the things we learned through our experiences at Blue Track Media and Performance Agency to acquire new customers for WellBefore. 95% of ecommerce companies would not exist without Google, Facebook, or Amazon, so I commend us for being able to pull this piece off. I would go into greater detail on how we were able to do this, but that’s a master class on its own (and to be honest, I’m not sure I want to reveal our trade secrets just yet). However I’ll tease that it was a combination of press, native ads, text ads, affiliate, SEO and growth hacking the Google news algorithms to our benefit.
Through my second company, Plugged Headphones (RIP 2008-2013) (for now), I was exposed to building and manufacturing products overseas. I was quickly able to tap into my experience of vetting manufacturers. This included how to properly communicate my ideas and improvements to them so that we could build the highest quality and most comfortable masks in the market. Without the deep scars from my journey with Plugged, I wouldn’t have been able to bring speed to product and shipping, or confidently say that our masks are of some of the highest quality and best rated in the market. Plugged was so personal to me that it feels like my biggest “failure,” at least emotionally. Little did I know at that time how important this failure would be to my future endeavours. Without Plugged there would be no WellBefore, and it took 15 years for that experience to come full circle and pay off. Let this last sentence simmer in your mind for a while before you move on. My biggest “failure” turned out to be one of my biggest strengths.
Third, our success came down to creativity. We just thought about the product and our positioning in the market differently: we created multiple sizes of masks and were one of the first companies in the world to produce a KN95 for kids; we added adjustable ear loops because one of my personal complaints was how my ears would start to hurt within minutes of wearing an off-the-shelf mask; we individually wrapped the masks because we knew how important sanitation and cleanliness was to our end consumer. I must have tested at least 1,000 masks from 100’s of manufacturers to figure out what makes a great mask by my personal standards and N95 filtration standards. By thinking differently about our products, we were able to position ourselves differently. And customers took notice, just look at our product reviews and variety.
Fourth, and perhaps most important, we obsessed over our customers and the customer experience with shopping on WellBefore. We really take care of our customers. There is no way we could scale to 40,000+ reviews with over 4.8 average stars if we didn’t put the customer first. I have read every single one of our 40,000+ reviews and still do to this day. When it came to complaints about the service or product, even if it wasn’t our fault – which most of the time it’s not – we made it right. This doesn’t seem the most creative on the surface, but you’d be surprised how many companies in our industry (medical supplies) do not put the customer first. Do we get taken advantage of at times? Of course. But the one thing I’ve learned after 500,000+ customers is that people are overwhelmingly good – and when they’re happy, they tell 10 other people how happy they are, and maybe 5 of those 10 people end up becoming your customers as well, for free. One important thing to note is that without good product margins and high efficiencies with all expenses, it’s extremely hard to take the losses that occur from taking care of our customers. Don’t ever sleep on your product margins and expenses.
Finally, and this goes without saying, the team that we have built around all Emagineer brands is simply amazing. We have all bought into the vision of democratising high quality products and services for affordable prices. From the warehouse team to our support staff, even to our manufacturers, we spend countless hours making sure that the experience of every customer is exceptional for all our brands. I am so proud and humbled to have a team that’s willing to roll up their sleeves, no matter what their title is, and put in the work to ensure that our customers are taken care of.
Scaling from 1,000 daily orders to 20,000 daily orders overnight cannot be accomplished if every single person on our team isn’t down to head to the warehouse and help with picking and packing. We couldn’t just add 20-30 people onto payroll every single time COVID spikes occurred and then let them go weeks later. That didn’t feel right and it was (still is) extremely difficult to find warehouse talent. We also guarantee a 24-48 hour turnaround from the moment you click “pay” to the time the product is shipped. Packing and shipping 20,000 orders daily with a limited team is physically and mentally draining, so much so that there were some days were we removed the ability to buy our products from our website. We couldn’t handle the demand and could not compromise our customers’ trust in WellBefore. What kept us going every day were the amazing reviews our customers were leaving us. I am nothing without my team and I fully recognize that. I am blessed.
The vision of WellBefore has evolved from being the one-stop shop for all your PPE to being the one-stop shop for all your medical & health supplies. Currently, we sell over 10,000 products. My goal is to scale to over 50,000+ medical supplies and health products by the end of next year. We want to become the most trusted, affordable, and highest quality brand name in medical supplies. We did the same thing with COVID test kits that we did with masks – we made them the most affordable in the world and we’ll continue this trend with more products that we launch in the near future. Medical and health supplies are needed for not only survival but happiness, so we’re going to do our best to make them more affordable without ever sacrificing quality.
I’m not sure if we’ll succeed, but I know that there is a need for what we have to offer. If you want to follow my journey, I’m very open and honest about it on my Instagram where I document our progress. I love to build in public. And we are constantly building better products and services that are more accessible and affordable. I haven’t even updated you about what we’re doing with MySeema yet… stay tuned.