Gretta van Riel started her first company in 2012 when she was 22 years old with just $24 in her bank account; she was working full-time as a marketing professional for a creative agency in Melbourne, Australia.
The opportunity to launch her first company happened when she began making her own blends of tea for personal use, then a few friends tried the teas and loved them, they would then tell their friends and van Riel would be in high demand to provide tea for an ever increasing amount of people. This process soon became an expensive liability because Gretta was not charging anyone for her teas; she decided to create an online store that people would be able to buy the teas at a price where she would be able to cover her costs.
Van Riel launched an e-commerce store using the capabilities of the e-commerce company Shopify and when the website launched it sold 4 teas on the first day of trading, then within the first six months the company SkinnyMe Tea would make $600,000. Gretta grew by using the leverage of the Instagram social media app. In April 2012 Facebook had just acquired the Instagram Company for $1 billion in cash and stock, so this was an exciting new period of potential and growth for Instagram.
Van Riel would take interesting shots of her teas and collaborate with influencers on the platform (who at that time had over 1,000 followers) to gain momentum for the newly formed company. This method of marketing did not cost anything at the time so SkinnyMe Tea could grow into a million dollar company in a short space of time.
Another business that Gretta would launch would be a company called ‘The 5th’ which would sell affordable watches. She launched with co-founder Alex McBride and the company used Instagram to grow its following to around 70,000 people before officially launching the company for business. When the company launched it made $100k on the first day of trading and over $1 million in its first year.
In order to build the demand and the initial 70,000 followers van Riel sent 30 sample watches to Instagram influencers, she already had built relationships with these influencers before sending them watches.
She sent watches to influencers with under 100k followers who would also be the type of market that would fit her target demographic. After that she was able to build the waiting list from the interested parties from other people’s audiences. She also used email to contact a number of prospects directly to inform then about the launches. This is how they were able to generate $100k of sales on the first day of trading.
The lesson here is to build a following before trying to sell your products. The majority of unsuccessful entrepreneurs try to sell what they have made (to uninterested prospects) instead of generating a genuine following, finding out what their true market want then tailoring your products and services to fit their needs and wants.
A clever thing that van Riel and McBride did was to limit when a person could buy a watch. They would allow sales on the 5th of every month for 5 days. After that period of time the option to buy would be closed and customers would need to place pre-sales for watches. This brilliantly uses the ‘scarcity’ technique spoken about by Robert Cialdini in his book Influence. To read more about Cialdini’s principles you can follow this link – Robert Cialdini: Influence
When Gretta started her third business, DROP Bottle, she decided to make a good cause central to the identity of that business by donating a percentage of its sales to clean water initiatives around the world.
Van Riel cleverly used her market from her first two businesses to launch her third business DROP Bottle. At that time she had built a following of nearly 1 million people who shared an interest in detox water (water that contains fruits, vegetables, or herbs in a container) and then looked for an opportunity to create a valuable business for her market.
The DROP bottle company made bottles that people can use to put their own varieties of detox water in. Due to the size of van Riel’s market the company gained success in a short time. DROP Bottle was featured by the media billionaire Oprah Winfrey who promoted the business on her network and that led to an incredible amount of additional sales.
By the time that van Riel launched Skintox she already had a reach of millions of followers in her network (she currently has over 16 million) and then by understand the needs and wants of her market she was able to launch Skintox Co which is a healthy skincare range that uses natural ingredients.
For this business van Riel accepted seed funding for this business from the Australian investment company Blackbird Ventures. Hey is an end-to-end influencer marketing platform that enables brands to connect with relevant influencers who have trusted audiences and markets.
There are many lessons that can be gathered from Gretta van Riel’s journey, she is not yet 30 and was featured by Forbes 30 under 30 in 2018.
Gretta van Riel interviewed by Foundr magazine
If we look back to how Greta started off, it is important to see that she started off by combining something that she wanted to do for herself as well as provide value for others. She also developed her market by using trail samples of her product to test the demand. It was only when excess demand was there that she went on to monetise her business.
Often the greed of young or even old entrepreneurs prevents them from building a successful business they are chasing money instead of fulfilling the needs and wants of their market.
Van Riel also managed to leverage the power of other people’s networks and market until she had built a big enough following of her own to do so. She did this by adding value to the other influencers on the platform. She looked for affinities in their audiences to her own, sent gifts, and added value over time before expecting anything in return.
Another very important thing for van Riel was that she was an early adopter on the platform of Instagram. She got in before it became ‘the hot thing’ and was able to maximise what she could do with the people on the platform.
A smart question to look at in today’s overcrowded social media market would be, what are the future things of tomorrow that no one is doing now. The leaders of tomorrow will be those who lead the way into new paths and territories today.
There are many more lessons to gather from van Riel’s journey so far and you can see more of her by visiting any of her platforms.