How One Woman Went From WIC To CEO Of Her Own Smoothie Empire

$30,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
product
Simple Green Smoo...
from Brooksville
started November 2012
$30,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
183K
alexa rank
387K
followers
1.89K
followers
email
social media

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi there. I’m Jen Hansard, the co-founder of Simple Green Smoothies where we create plant-powered recipes that gives you the energy and health to fuel your passion. It all started on Instagram in 2012, yet over the years (and with a LOT of hustle and luck) it has exploded into a brand of best-selling plant-based recipe books, live community cleanses, adventure retreats and the #1 green smoothie app in iTunes, Daily Blends. Since 2012, Simple Green Smoothies has helped over 2 million people take control of their health in a tasty and simple way.

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Our flagship product is the FREE Simple 7-Day Smoothie Challenge. We spent months creating this self-driven program and deliver the most amazing experience for anyone who signs up. We’ve made healthy habits fun, simple and tasty so that you keep coming back for more. Yet most importantly, we’ve empowered you to take control of your health, in your own kitchen so that it’s sustainable and affordable. I don't know many people who can afford to spend $8 a day buy a smoothie, which is why I can teach you how to make one that tastes WAY better (and for under $3).

Once our customers, AKA “rawkstars”, complete the 7-Day Smoothie Challenge, they understand the power of plants and eating well. They can also see that we’re more than just a business here to make money (Heck, we just gave them an incredible program for FREE!). We truly care about each and every rawkstar and want to make the world a happier and healthier place. So now, we invite them to go farther on our plant-powered journey. We have options to help them right where they are at. From upgrading their smoothie swag to cute mason jars, eco-friendly straws, and lids, to embracing a 100% plant-based diet through our 21-day cleanse, to joining our weekly plant-based meal planner, Rawk the Year.

Our programs can bring in as much as $30,000 a month in revenue, which helps me pay our staff, expenses and also allows us to help women farmers in Cambodia build mushroom farms through World Hope International. Click here to learn more.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

In 2011, we moved here from California to Florida so my husband, Ryan, could help start a church with a friend. He was a brand new pastor and the job didn’t come with a salary. I was a stay-at-home mom doing any random design job I could to scrape together money to help pay for rent and groceries.

Being an entrepreneur was never my dream. I wanted to get married, raise a family, decorate a cute house, travel a lot as a family. I started my own business out of necessity— it was my way to help feed our family and pay our rent when things got real tough.

One day, I got the mail and opened a letter that said, “You no longer have health insurance.” We knew this was coming. But we couldn't avoid it and sorta lived in denial that it would happen to us. Well, it did and I felt like a safety net had been pulled out from under us. What if one of the kids gets sick? Or one of us gets sick? Our small savings would be wiped out and we'd go under.

I Googled for hours "how to not get sick" and stumbled upon an article about “Boosting your immune system by drinking green smoothies”. Back then, I thought “Ugh! They look awful!” But I knew my friend, Jadah Sellner, had just started drinking these green smoothies to lose her baby weight. So I decided: "if she can do it, I can too."

A couple of days later, I went to the grocery store with my kids to grab a banana, a bag of spinach (the last one I bought went bad in the fridge before I had the courage to open it!), blueberries and the strawberries that were on sale. We got home and I dragged out the blender, dusted it off (literally) and threw everything in it with some orange juice and blended.

Ryan and the kids are staring at the blender… unsure if it’s safe to consume. I poured that chunky smoothie into sippy cups and glasses for us all. And at the same time we all gave it a taste. Surprisingly, we ALL loved it! Clare, my 1 ½-year-old, was literally holding out her cup-like “Mommy give me more!”

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That was the moment I felt like I won Gold at the Olympics. My kids were happy to drink healthy green smoothies every day and we could stop getting sick. We'd actually be be okay without health insurance. The only hurdle was: those fresh fruits and vegetables cost money and it’s getting extra tight. Yet I knew there had to be a way to make this work. I heard about a government program called WIC that helps women, infants, and children afford nutritious groceries. Based on our income, we qualified for government help so I set up an appointment for us.

A couple of days later, Ryan and I were sitting in the WIC office with the kids waiting to hear if we’d qualify and I started thinking…. Wait a minute. I don’t belong here. I have two college degrees. My husband has a bachelor's and master's degrees. We grew up middle class in the Los Angeles suburbs with the stay at home moms and breadwinner dads. Our parents would be shocked to know we’re here… about to get government assistance. It just wasn't where I ever thought I would be.

But sitting across me, I see a woman. She has two toddlers and a newborn. The little girl is playing with her little sister’s hair. I instinctual know we’re in the same boat. We’re both moms. We’re both exhausted. We’re both worried about our families. Trying to keep them healthy and happy. Neither of us is here for a handout. We’re just going through tough times and need a little help to help us get our families over this bump into a better place and back on our feet. So we went forward when they called out names and walked out the door with government grocery checks.

A part of me couldn’t stand using those $6 WIC vouchers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store every week. But the other part of me was so grateful to be able to keep buying the fresh ingredients to make our daily green smoothies. I was embarrassed to get them out in the grocery store line, as eyes would roll behind me and people would sigh at the amount of extra time it would take to check out. It was a long humbling process every single week at the grocery store. I started going first thing in the morning to avoid seeing people I knew— I was embarrassed. Yet I was driven to keep my family healthy and I could sense that green smoothies were the golden ticket to get us there.

how-i-started-a-30k-month-smoothie-recipe-business-from-home After a couple of weeks of drinking them, I noticed: Wow, we haven’t been sick (while everyone else around us was coughing and hacking) and I’m feeling good. Real good. I have way more energy than usual. I’ve been a runner my whole life, yet had stopped for almost a year because I was so tired. Yet with a daily green smoothie, I had more energy than I knew what to do with— so I began running again. I had more energy to put into my blog. More energy to chase after my kids and play with them on the monkey bars. I was beginning to feel like my old self with energy and dreams— the college version of myself!

Jadah and I talked about writing a recipe book of the smoothie recipes we’ve been making for our families. We started sharing the recipes on a mommy blog and on Instagram. Then on our brand new website I designed after watching lots of YouTube videos. And before ya know it… it turns out other families like green smoothies just as much as mine does! Women from around the world write in to tell me how they’re keeping their families healthy with the smoothies and how this one simple change in their lifestyle is inspiring and empowering them to make so many other changes in their lives, too.

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It really is kinda crazy how it turned into a business. It was a ton of luck AND a ton of hard work. There was no clear plan, it was more of us following the momentum and building as we went. I had no clue it would turn into anything half as cool as it is now, but I definitely did the work to get it there. I remember getting the kids to bed and kissing my husband goodnight and then turning on my computer to work on the website until 3 am. I didn’t sleep much in the early years because we couldn’t pay people to help us — we had to do it all ourselves. Jadah would spend hours glued to Instagram and Facebook replying to people's comments. I learned how to build a Wordpress website, take professional-ish photos, make smoothie recipes and send emails from Mail Chimp. I learned as I needed to and didn’t let myself get overwhelmed at all that was ahead. I conquered one task at a time and overtime we had a robust website, an email list of 200,000 and a social media following to over half a million.

We've even been able to expand into the retreat space, which is my new favorite thing. I take small groups of women on 5 days adventures to places like the Grand Canyon or the Nature Coast to kayak with manatees.

It's still crazy to think that just 7 years ago I was on WIC. Today I’m CEO of Simple Green Smoothies and helping millions of other women get healthier and happier... just like me. All of this started by drinking a green smoothie. Now, just imagine what you can do if you started drinking a green smoothie?!

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Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

The first product Jadah and I launched at Simple Green Smoothies was our Fresh Start: 21-Day Cleanse program.

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My co-founder and I had gone through an online business school (Marie Forleo’s B-School) and learned the steps to create a product that sells. We would call up friends who followed us on social media and ask them what they were struggling with. We’d email our followers and ask them what would make their life even better. The common thread was they liked the smoothies and how they made them feel, but they wanted even more dramatic results. After lots of research, we talked with a holistic nutritionist from Australia, Meg Thompson, and learned about the power of a plant-based whole food cleanse. It was exactly what we wanted to create for our community!

In a short period of time, you could reset your eating habits, your cravings and get dramatic results. We hired Meg to consult us on this sort of cleanse. She gave us a bunch of recipes and we taste-tested them and tweaked until we’re excited to eat everything. Then I took my college design skills and put the program together into a nicely designed PDF that we could sell to our community.

We knew very little about marketing in a traditional sense. So when it came time to launch the program, it was really us just inviting our community into an experience. We reminded them what they said in their surveys and how this program was created to tackle those concerns and get the results. We also shared candidly that we also needed this program. Together we could do it and get the results we’ve always wanted.

And within 10 days, we made $86,000 in sales. It literally took my breath away and of course, I cried. It had been two years of hustling late at night, eating $5 pizzas and buying everything second-hand to get to this point. So seeing the money come in was a huge moment of relief and made me realize our recipes and lifestyle is something that can help others AND they are willing to buy it too. I'm so thankful our community of rawkstars believed in us.

Here’s one of the first graphics I ever made to promote the live cleanse:

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Describe the process of launching the business.

I first realized Simple Green Smoothies could be more than just an Instagram account when our following began to grow exponentially JUST by word of mouth. People would tag their friends in our posts and then their friends would tag their friends. Everyone wanted to share our recipes with their friends. I remember going to bed one night and waking up with 1,500 new followers. It was mind-blowing! They just truly loved our recipes… especially this one:

If our followers were happy to tag their friends and family with our recipe posts, then it must mean they really like us! So I began researching brands and websites that have large followings and tried to emulate them ( Starbucks and Toms Shoes we're my favs). I learned that brands have really bold, emotional design and imagery. You literally feel elevated just by being on their website! I wanted that for us too. I wanted people to come to SimpleGreenSmoothies.com and feel healthier… even before they tried their first green smoothie! I wanted them to just imagine what their life would be like in the very near future but including inspiration pics of me and my family in our healthiest and happiest moments.

It's funny because most of the time I was in my pajamas hunched over my laptop working within the late hours of the night. Not exactly the picture of health and happiness. Yet I had to paint a picture of what I knew was possible for me, my family and for all of our followers to get us all to believe it was possible.

I was also constantly trying to one-up myself with the recipes, graphics, and photography we used at SGS. As soon as I could afford to upgrade my iPhone 4 photo to a digital SLR, I did. I used my own money to buy a nice camera and shot all of our own recipes in the beginning. Yet they looked professional and people would take us more seriously. As time went on, we were able to hire a professional photographer, Lindsey Johnson, and she took our recipes to a whole new level. I still use Lindsey because her imagery is such a vital part of our brand!

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Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Our free challenges are the best way to attract new customers. Inviting someone into a challenge is such a fun way to introduce them to your company. I've shared this with Amy Porterfield, the better you make your free challenge experience for them, the more likely they are going to buy one of your products down the road. Our challenge also happens to be our best FB ad that we run. I think Facebook likes when you aren’t just selling products through the ads, but creating value and incredible content through your offer. That’s just my hunch... I'm no expert in that area yet :)

When it comes to retaining customers, I think as long as you always stay true to yourself and speak candidly to your community, they become loyal friends. We try our best to respond to every email, comment, and message that comes in. We see our community as our friends and fellow wellness warriors— and will always cheer one another on. When you listen to their concerns and needs, it also gives you ideas for future products that you could create to help them.

We are always thinking “what would help them more? The truth is, we can’t keep selling them the same product over and over, which means we have to always be thinking “what’s next” and have the energy and bandwidth to create it for them. That’s why we have 4 seasonal cleanses, an app, 2 published recipe books, live retreats, and physical smoothie supplies. These are all requests we’ve received over and over again… and we love creating new things for our community. As great as it is to get new customers, it’s easier and more rewarding to help your current customers get to the next level with more amazing products.

Probably the best advice I have when starting a business is to make sure you truly believe in the product and are passionate about.

You will literally spend almost every waking moment (and a sleeping moment too!) thinking about it! Also, your customers know when it’s business versus a passion— they can sniff it out. Share your passion with them, keep your messaging real, authentic and personable. For example, in our copywriting, we use a TON of contractions (ex: they’re, won’t, can’t) because that’s how I talk in real life. It’s more casual and personal— and I want my fellow rawkstars to get to know and trust me. Subtle, small things like that can make a difference in getting paying customers that believe in you and your product!

I also believe we’ve had such a huge success because of our team. I truly have the most incredible team working with me— they have the biggest hearts, willingness to learn new things and boldness to speak up when something isn’t working. I’ve worked hard to cultivate a work environment that I personally enjoy being around, I only hire people I respect and trust with a company credit card, babysitting my kids and telling me the hard truths when I need to hear them.

In the early years of Simple Green Smoothies, we had some serious momentum going through our free Green Smoothie Challenge and then our 21-Day Cleanse. Yet over time, products lose their shine and can be harder to sell. We’ve had to get creative over the years, survey our audience to understand their needs over time, rebrand our products to reach a new audience and even hire marketing experts to help us see more opportunities. Running a company takes a lot of grit, creativity, and endurance to continue on when times get hard (because they will!). Yet I take every hardship as an opportunity to grow stronger as a person and learn some tough lessons along the way.

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How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

This year has been a pretty pivotal year for Simple Green Smoothies! We’ve hit some major growth thanks to our new membership program and adventure retreats. Yet it was a hard couple of years to get here! We went from almost a surreal moment of success when we got our first book deal in 2015 and almost hit $1 million in revenue. Yet the following year we almost hit bankruptcy due to a huge drop in revenue and pulling too much out of the business. I bought out my co-founder at the end of 2016, restructured the business and brought the company out of the red. It was the scariest and hardest thing I'v had to cut my entire team’s hours and pay (which was a really hard thing for me), I worked almost every waking hour without taking a paycheck for a long time and reinvested everything into the business. It took years to change the trajectory and hit steady growth again. Yet we are here and it was worth every late night.

I’ve built the business off of sweat, hustle and passion— and without any money. Yet when you have skills and utter determination to create a thriving business, you don’t need the money to do it. There’s always another way.

Since this is the first year we’re hitting growth goals on our own, I’ve just begun allocating some of the surplus money to a marketing agency, Bell Interactive, to help us reach a larger audience on Facebook and Instagram and generate more sales. I’ve wanted to bring a marketing person in for years, yet the truth was: we weren’t ready. We didn’t have the cash to play with. It was too risky. I didn’t have the bandwidth to help them do it well. Yet now we are at that place. Hopefully, we get some great results from this marketing strategy.

My goal is to expand Simple Green Smoothies into the physical space as well. We’ve launched an awesome product line (Official Simple Green Smoothies Swag) that’s doing very well. I’d love to get smoothie shops and juice bars using our recipes and selling our merchandise. I'd also like to grow our affiliate network and get other online marketers to promote our programs and spread the word. That would be amazing!

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Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Being an entrepreneur was never my dream. I wanted to get married, raise a family, decorate a cute house, travel a lot as a family. I started my own business out of necessity— it was my way to help feed our family and pay our rent when things got real tough.

Yet I stayed open-minded as life throws curve balls and say yes to random opportunities that excited me. Just be open to allowing your business to grow outside of the tight grip you want to keep on it. Keep the passion and serving your customers at the forefront of every decision you make with your business.

Money should be a secondary factor when building a business and life that you truly love.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Instagram is the platform that gave us a community and the confidence to start a business. Yet social media is constantly changing and you have to be strategic! I’m SO thankful we always made it a point to draw people from our social media channels to our email list. That’s where we find the most impact on our community and generate the most sales. We started with MailChimp and have switched to a variety of platforms over the years. They all have their pros and cons… yet they are worth it!

When it comes to expanding your team, I highly recommend hiring from within. The most loyal, best team players are those that started as fans of Simple Green Smoothies and were excited to learn and grow with the company. Over time, they have moved up from customer service helpers to directors of new programs we launch. I also believe it's okay to hire close friends (who drink our smoothie recipes, of course). They have made amazing workers, too. When you run your own company, you make your own rules. I choose to work with friends and it’s always been a good thing.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I read Essentialism, by Greg Mckeown in 2016 and it changed the trajectory of how I used my whole business. It was one of those books that came at the right time in my life— when I was completely overwhelmed and overcommitted in my business. I felt like I was carrying the load of the work because I was such a go-getter. I would sacrifice sleep and time with my family to complete projects for the business.

I didn’t want to let my co-founder and team down, yet the truth was I was letting myself down. My dreams and passions were squashed while I hovered over the keyboard for 14 hours a day. It was really unhealthy and that book helped me see that and get my priorities back in order.

I also really enjoy the NPR podcast “How I Built This” and binge-listen every summer with my kids on our summer road trip. It’s inspiring to hear so many different ways to build a business and gives me ideas I love trying in my own company.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Trust your gut when making decisions— it’ll be the best coach you ever have. I’m proof that you don’t need a business degree or money to create an incredible business that helps millions of people. If you believe in your product, share it authentically with your community, and take steps to turn it into a business as quickly as you can… you can do it! Oh, and remember, there’s no right or wrong way to start a business. You just have to go for it and adjust as you go.

Oh, and invest in a good blender so you can make a quick green smoothie to make sure you’re taking care of your body while hustling. Building a business shouldn’t crush your health or your life— it’s supposed to support it. Make sure to still take time for yourself, your health, your family and your future. Your business is just a piece of you— it doesn’t define all of you (and it never should!)

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

When we have job openings, we post within our community and give them first dibs. So if you’re interested in the possibility to work with us (and get healthier!), sign up for our newsletter.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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-  
Jen Hansard,   Founder of Simple Green Smoothies

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