January 04, 2016
Le-Vel: Cloud-Based Company Is Helping Millions Thrive
by Courtney Roush
Headquarters: Frisco, Texas
Top Executives: Co-Founders and Co-CEOs Jason Camper and Paul Gravette
Products: weight-management, mental clarity, energy, cognitive performance and inflammation support
2015 Revenue: approximately $350 million
It’s a fascinating time for the direct selling industry. Within our ranks are the legendary greats who have been on the scene for 50 years or more, those who have faced the challenge of updating their business models to keep pace with technology’s continuous evolution. In recent years, the industry has added several chairs to its proverbial table, welcoming a host of young direct selling companies for whom technology is woven into the very fabric of their respective cultures. Premium lifestyle product company Le-Vel is at the very forefront of this new wave, selling its supplements, shakes and metabolism-boosting wearable adhesives to support a healthy lifestyle.
|Jason Camper||Paul Gravette|
“Because we’re cloud-based, we can reward our brand promoters and their customers with more because our overhead is a fraction of what most corporations have.” —Paul Gravette, Co-Founder and Co-CEO
Le-Vel Co-Founders and Co-CEOs Jason Camper and Paul Gravette, both industry veterans, knew what it took to launch a successful direct selling company. But they didn’t want to do it the traditional way. With an eye on trends taking shape in the business world at large, they opted to plunge into new territory, launching a direct selling company based entirely in the cloud.
For the uninitiated, that means Le-Vel has no brick-and-mortar headquarters. Camper and Gravette took the money they would have invested in overhead and pumped it into what they consider the highest-quality product ingredients for their THRIVE product line. It’s a philosophy consistent with a “product-first” mentality that has enabled the company to grow organically, yet steadily. Since its launch in 2012, Le-Vel’s annual revenue has ballooned from $10 million in 2013 to $100 million in 2014, then $350 million in 2015.
“Before the word ‘cloud’ became the hot word, I’d built online-only companies,” Gravette says. “I’ve known for 10-plus years that a cloud-based corporate infrastructure will keep a company nimble and lean. Let’s face it: The Internet has made our business environment 100 times more competitive than ever before. Because we’re cloud-based, we can reward our brand promoters and their customers with more because our overhead is a fraction of what most corporations have. That allows us to ‘walk the walk’ and be loyal to those who represent our brand.”
To make this all possible, the company first had to create this non-traditional infrastructure. Gravette says its IT department was one of its “weapons” for conquering this piece of technology, and that from inception, the founders had absolute control of its software coding, which allowed Le-Vel to move much faster than if they had outsourced this process.
“We take pride in saying we believe our platform is not only advanced, but that we already are building out seamlessly our social network’s future of mobile and app tracking technologies,” Gravette says.
A direct selling company without a front door, corporate tours or offices, of course, is a relatively foreign concept. Direct sellers are known for maintaining close-knit cultures both among employees and in the field. While many of those companies manage their resources as effectively as possible, it’s undeniable that “the old way” is an expensive and, in some cases, not terribly flexible one. “We have a nontraditional corporate structure; the hierarchy is much flatter,” says Drew Hoffman, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer. The company maintains a full-time staff based all over the United States, more than half of them on the customer support team. Being cloud-based allows Le-Vel to hire the best fit for its staff without limiting its options based on proximity to a fixed location. Executives and customer support operate from anywhere at any time.
So how does a cloud-based company keep its employees around the campfire, so to speak? “The organic nature of our structure contributes to a real team feeling,” Hoffman says. “You don’t feel overly restricted here. You’ve got the ability to wear multiple hats and think creatively. Everyone knows they have a voice and can add value.”
Gravette adds, “The less you see of your colleagues, the more you appreciate the time you do have when you’re together.”
Cloud technology also means greater flexibility and agility for a company striving to push the limits in promoter and customer satisfaction. “It allows us to work together, communicate about what’s going on and respond faster while keeping overhead at an absolute minimum,” Hoffman says. “I never foresee us becoming a more hierarchal, bloated structure. We’ve added some great new talent over the last three to six months, but we’ll remain small, and that allows us to be efficient, lean and effective. Our agility remains an important piece of our success and our growth.”
Gravette says that the company’s infrastructure has allowed it to respond quickly and avoid backorders, shipping and customer service issues.
More specifically, the company has designed a special batching process to cut down on cost, and has an extensive inventory reporting system to help determine inventory demand. “At the end of the day, speed of delivery will determine customer satisfaction in today’s online consumer world,” Gravette says. “Being able to grow for more than 40 months with no hickups in online orders and with products being shipped within 24 hours, on average, has really strengthened our salesforce’s appreciation for the fast online order processessing and fulfillment of their customers.”
“Cloud technology affords us great flexibility and agility. It allows us to work together, communicate about what’s going on and respond faster while keeping overhead at an absolute minimum.” —Drew Hoffman, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer
Thanks to greatly reduced expenditures, Camper says, “we’ve been able to put our money where we want it: on our products.” The supplement industry, both inside and outside the direct selling realm, is enormous, and there’s no denying that ingredient quality can and does vary wildly among various brands. “Anyone can look around and see that people are tired, they’re not feeling good and they’re utterly exhausted,” Gravette says. “Helping others feel great is what makes our accomplishments so fulfilling.”
Le-Vel sources premium-grade ingredients, which the company says carry a higher bioavailability than standard ingredients, meaning the body is better able to absorb them at a higher level and reap their associated benefits. “We’re focused on the efficacy of our products versus on our margins,” Camper says. “We had confidence that if we provided a superior product, that growth would follow. The cloud has enabled us to have a much higher cost of goods. If you look at the last 12 to 18 months, the biggest thing that our cloud infrastructure has done is help facilitate and sustain hyper-growth.”
“Anyone can look around and see that people are tired, they’re not feeling good and they’re utterly exhausted. Helping others feel great is what makes our accomplishments so fulfilling.” —Paul Gravette
In order to meet their own high standards for quality, company executives established a Scientific and Medical Advisory Board, which has more than 200 years of combined industry research in human nutrition and nutritional supplementation. Camper says that to date, Le-Vel has commissioned two double-blind placebo-controlled safety studies and two efficacy studies, as well as worked with Ohio State University to complete a statistical analysis on how to improve each future study.
“We feel like reaching new levels in human nutrition and research is a key ingredient to these innovations,” he says.
Each year, the company sets aside a significant portion of its budget for research and development and equally turns its attention to quality control, which Camper says is a top priority, with the company going to great lengths to make sure these processes are following the same high standard as ingredients do.
Product integrity isn’t the only factor behind Le-Vel’s dramatic and rapid growth. Testimonials are the very lifeblood of this company, and social media has been a powerful tool for getting those stories into the hands of potential consumers throughout the globe. “We never would have started Le-Vel if social media weren’t our focus to acquire customers,” Gravette says. “We’re here to move fast, not slow, and in order to survive in today’s business atmosphere, you’ve got to be present online. Ninety percent of our customer growth comes from connections on social networks, primarily Facebook. In my opinion, social media is shifting the direct sales industry, forever.”
More than 500,000 independent representatives, or “promoters,” as Le-Vel refers to them, are all over the Internet touting the benefits of the company’s flagship program, THRIVE EXPERIENCE, which incorporates a daily morning regimen of Premium Lifestyle Capsules, a Premium Lifestyle Shake Mix and Derma Fusion TechnologyTM (or DFTTM) adhesive, worn for time-released results. Collectively, this suite of products is designed to promote weight management, fitness, lean muscle support, mental clarity and appetite control.
Beyond ingredients and benefits, it’s the simplicity of Le-Vel’s product line that has been key to its success, according to Camper. “As complex as our story could be,” he says, “we’ve kept it simple. These people already have jobs. We want to get them going.” THRIVE is marketed as an eight-week experience, and the daily regimen (capsules, shake and application of the DFTTM adhesive) is completed in 40 minutes’ time, all in the morning and before the workday begins. “Jason and I both knew there was a golden opportunity to formulate and manufacture a product line that filled a void: simplicity, but with a premium approach,” Gravette says. “A company can grow very fast when the adoption phase is simple for your everyday life.”
Even more telling than the promoters who love these products are their customers throughout the United States, Canada, U.K., Australia and New Zealand, who are sharing their own results via social media. In fact, “we’ve got enthusiasm from countries where we don’t even have a presence yet,” says Hoffman. Indeed, social media has helped forge a strong sense of online community among Le-Vel promoters and their customers. From the beginning, Camper and Gravette recognized that by leveraging technology and its potential for instantaneous delivery and boundless reach, they could connect with as many people as possible.
That’s not to imply that technology has completely replaced the power of face-to-face interactions. You’ll find a year-round roster of Le-Vel meetups, called “locals,” in cities throughout the country. Every three months, Le-Vel takes qualifying promoters at the $12K VIP level and above on Lifestyle Rewards trips, giving promoters who hope to reach the ranks of $40K, $80K and $200K VIP a taste of what’s to come. Camper and Gravette are nothing if not accessible; both travel the field on a near-constant basis and have been known to stick around long after closing time, talking to promoters one-on-one.
“I think we’ve done a good job—employees and promoters—of marrying the personal touch with technology,” Camper says. “Technology is critical, but personal relationships are always important; they convey the passion people have for our products.”
“The thing I’m proudest of,” he continues, “is how our promoters generate sales. With Le-Vel, the product leads. The proof is in the 500,000 promoters and 2 million customers we currently have. That’s the telltale sign of any long-term, legitimate company.”
While Le-Vel is on the fast track, its approach to international expansion is deliberate. After all, “two things kill direct selling: no growth and too much growth,” Camper says. The company has built strong relationships over the years, so they know where their strengths are and where growth can occur. Le-Vel currently is looking at Mexico and South America, with no specific timelines for launches there or any other new market. When the time is right, they’ll know it. “We have so many areas we haven’t tapped internationally, but we don’t cast the net where we’re not ready,” says Hoffman. “Given our organic approach to growth, we’re not going to force it.”
|Le-Vel was featured for the second year in a row in Times Square, New York City, throughout the month of December and during the the annual ball drop on New Year’s Eve 2015.||Le-Vel executives and promoters gathered at Times Square to revel in the recent recognition of the company’s products and lifestyle program.|
‘Free’ Is Key
A series of bonuses have been charted around a Le-Vel promoter’s first 30 days. Quick wins, of course, are an important determinant of retention, but they’re not necessarily the only factor behind an independent distributor’s crucial first impressions of the brand. One of the more unique aspects of Le-Vel’s culture is the word “free,” and you’ll hear it often. It costs nothing to become a brand promoter. Developing trust and earning loyalty aren’t necessarily the means to a fast buck, but they can pay significant dividends for a company with its eye on the future. Promoters also pay nothing for their respective websites, back-office access and educational tools. “The first 30 days are the essential time when we need to make something happen for a promoter. Why in the world would we put a speedbump in front of someone? We can contribute to their belief in this opportunity,” Camper says.
|Co-Founders and Co-CEOs Paul Gravette and Jason Camper celebrate a win for the company in Times Square.
The volume and depth of a direct selling company’s customer base is a strong indicator of its health and potential for longevity. Under the terms of Le-Vel’s customer acquisition program, any customer who makes two referrals receives free product. “We have thousands of customers who have never made money with us, but they received our products free. We’ve taken the question ‘How much does it cost?’ out of both sides of the equation—promoters and customers. And it’s been a huge hit for us.”
Compliance: A Round-the-Clock Effort
While social media provides an incredibly powerful tool for building recognition and credibility, it also can be a bit like the Wild West when you’ve got an army of promoters who want to shout from the rooftops about how your products have changed their lives for the better. From the start, Camper and Gravette sought out a partner who would help protect the business opportunity their promoters enjoyed. Christopher Schmidt, In-House Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer for Le-Vel, oversees a compliance department that monitors 24/7, but the “focus is on helping, not hindering,” he emphasizes. “We’re testimonial-driven, so education is key. We’re hands-on with the field. Promoters want to share with their friends in other countries we may not even be in yet. Our Facebook growth has been organic. We’ve generated nearly 500,000 followers in three years. Our community is real and vibrant. They’re family, and we look out for them. The game plan is to reach that delicate balance and maintain continuity in our messaging.” Based on the philosophy that if the products lead, the success will follow, Le-Vel strives to keep the spotlight focused on its products and their respective benefits, versus making income and lifestyle claims.
What’s on the horizon for 2016? “Our goal for next year is to break $500 million, and I have high hopes we’ll exceed that,” Camper says. “We’re aggressively researching things that have never been done before, and we have two product launches coming in early 2016. We’ll also continue exploring international markets because we want to get this brand as far as we can get it.”
Technology is building bridges across oceans for Le-Vel, but that bridge is only as strong as the products it represents. “Whether you’re retail or direct sales, at the end of the day, you have to have excellent products. In my opinion, we have a true, world-class product suite, and that’s key to our growth and sustainability,” Hoffman says. “The products and the culture are why Le-Vel promoters are so passionate. It’s a lot easier to sell something you believe in, and they have a powerful platform to do it.”