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April 01, 2012

Top Desk

Thoughts on Growth, Company Culture and the Future

by Blake Mallen, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, ViSalus

Click here to order the Direct Selling News issue in which this article appeared.

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Nearly one year after being recognized with the DSN Global 100 Bravo “Turnaround” Award for significantly improving its company, ViSalus continues on its rocket streak to outstanding sales. Recognizing the company last April, John Fleming, Publisher and Editor in Chief of DSN and spearhead of the DSN Global 100 listing, said, “The Turnaround Award is the most important of the three [Bravo Awards] because, like in any other industry, we lose companies. When a company that was struggling shows that it is now growing and thriving, it means that thousands of distributors and customers are able to do business again. And that is crucial to our industry.”

No longer in “turnaround” mode, the company’s sales skyrocketed from $34 million in 2010 to $231 million in 2011. Scott Van Winkle, Managing Director of Equity Research at Canaccord Genuity, the global capital markets division of Canaccord Financial, commented on ViSalus’ 618 percent growth during the Q3 ended Oct. 31, 2011, saying that ViSalus has been able to deliver to its parent company, Blyth, both strong revenue and profit growth: “The results have been strong and apparent for over a year and the share price has nearly doubled since Jan. 1, 2011. With strong momentum and some favorable trends in the weight-management segment of direct selling, ViSalus is undoubtedly a company to watch in 2012.”

We recently caught up with Blake Mallen, a Co-Founder and the Chief Marketing Officer of ViSalus, and got his take on some of the obstacles that come with fast growth, a glimpse into the ViSalus culture and what may be in store for their future. Here are some of his thoughts.

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On the most rewarding part of growing at such a fast rate:

Without question, the most rewarding thing over the last couple of years has been watching the results of our customers on The Challenge—the weight loss and fitness transformations have been amazing! We now have over 100,000 new people joining The Challenge every month to move toward their personal health goals. I’ve watched their whole persona and confidence change. They’ve got some swagger going now!

Also, watching the lifestyles of our Promoters change, especially seeing those who’ve been with us a long time—who went through the bumps and the bruises with us—that’s very rewarding.

On company culture, promoters and employees:

When we started The Challenge in 2009, we were in a very dire situation, and we had to really focus on increasing sales. Our Promoters responded in a big way! This year, we are really focused on filling out our infrastructure and building the company to further support all the exciting growth.

We started the year with about 200 full-time employees, but in order to do what we feel we are capable of this year, we plan to have close to 1,000 by the end of the year. As of now, we are slightly behind our hiring plan, but we believe it’s more important to hire the right talent that really matches our culture, rather than rush to fill roles.

We believe our culture is our No. 1 differentiator for both our Promoters and for our internal team. Products, compensation plans, programs, those are important, but our culture is really the key. We’ve got 800 people to hire, and our biggest fear isn’t that we won’t hire, but that we might hire the wrong people. We want to be careful so we don’t create a company in the future that we don’t want to be a part of. In the end, we believe an inspired group of people with similar cultural values is what makes a championship team. 

Our values? 1. Be inspired. Be inspiring. 2. Build trust through collaboration. 3. Be a good teacher and a better student. 4. Think like an entrepreneur; be resourceful. 5. Challenge yourself. 6. Seek simplicity. We want our employees to think like owners, to work as teams and stay out of silos. Because we view our internal staff and our customers and promoters as all a part of the same culture, we ask all of our internal employees to set their own personal Challenge goal just like all of our customers, and we reward them with the same great rewards. This way, everyone internally is able to relate to the end consumer.

On the factors responsible for creating the explosive growth:

We built a model that resonates with today’s consumer. After the 2008 meltdown, the rules of the game changed. We were quick to adapt to the new game. I mean, we had to. Each of us, Ryan, Nick and myself, personally invested just to keep the company going. It was an “all-in bet” in our reinvention strategy. And it worked. Today, it’s not the company, but the customer that rules. So we built a business model that spoke to today’s customer. We focused on savings and value. We created a social conversation around a 90 Day Challenge. We threw out the old product pitches and opportunity hype. And we threw ourselves into a glass house so that the world could really get to know who we were and what we were trying to accomplish.

Our primary retention strategy is an extension of our selling message—we may promote a 90 Day Challenge, but we are really referring to 90 days at a time. It’s about engaging people in multiple challenges. Rarely does someone go from where they are to their ideal body in their first 90 days, so we help them move from challenge to challenge in stages. People start to feel good, and then they begin thinking about a goal they’d have never thought of in the beginning. The small steps keep people engaged and focused, and the challenge becomes more of a lifestyle. In one year, or four challenges later, you can be a totally different person—that’s the power of the challenge culture.

On technology:

We look at everything we do through a mobile lens. We are focusing our innovation in mobile—our mission is to have the largest mobilized salesforce in the world. Our promoters can already manage their business and conduct commerce in real time on their mobile phone. We’re about to release our own branded credit card swiper that plugs right into a mobile phone so the whole signup process can be done in seconds in a simple, cool way. And some of the things we are working on in the social space are just plain exciting! 

On being authentic:

Resist the urge to do what someone else is doing just because it’s working for them. The biggest lesson we’ve learned is the value of figuring out who we are and sticking to that. When we were reinventing ourselves, we spent a lot of time talking about who we wanted to be, what we wanted to create, and how we wanted to create it. You don’t need to look outside your own doors and copy someone else—you need to look in the mirror and ask the tough questions and stick to your own answers. Our programs and promotions work for us because they are a genuine reflection of how we’ve defined ourselves internally. 

When a company just adopts a program because it’s worked for someone else, they are running the risk of confusing their sales field by overlaying a model that isn’t really right for them. This creates discord and ultimately discourages the field. Figure out who you are and be that, not a reflection of someone else’s success. Be real, transparent and authentic, and you’ll be a lot happier with the company you can end up creating. I know we are.

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Blake MallenBlake Mallen is Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at ViSalus.