After Ashley Harris and her family began experimenting with probiotics at a doctor’s recommendation, they saw digestive issues clear up, eczema disappear, and moods improve. She wanted to help other families overcome similar ailments, so in 2015 she founded LoveBug Probiotics, a New York City-based supplements business that grew its revenue 2,621 percent in three years, and landed deals with major retailers like Target and CVS. Despite having limited business experience, here’s how she pulled from her previous career as a 19th-century European paintings specialist at Sotheby’s to get LoveBug started. –As told to Anna Meyer
We launched selling our products on Amazon and on our website. But those early days were tough. The space is competitive, and my startup didn’t have the kind of budget for marketing that other probiotic companies have.
With my art background, I focused on creating bold-colored packaging and tongue-in-cheek branding messages like “Feel good from the inside out” and “Yeast is a beast.” It helped us stand out among competitors that had very clinical marketing and branding. Our approach resonated with customers, and incoming positive Amazon reviews helped more and more eyes land on our page. By the end of that first year, my startup took in around $115,000 in revenue.
In 2016, my instincts and art background served me again: I traveled to Anaheim, California to an industry trade show, Natural Products Expo West, to create an over-the-top display booth with Ikea furniture and bookcases that I put together on the spot. Throwing a corporate banner over a folding table wasn’t going to cut it. Compared to the bland, run-of-the-mill corporate booths around us, we stood out and buyers from national retailers all came looking, and after hearing my story, became interested in doing business.
Fast forward three years, and by the end of 2018, I grew the brand 2,621 percent, landed deals with national retailers like Target and CVS, put product through the doors of more than 10,000 retail locations, and brought in over $3.1 million in revenue in 2018.
As a first time founder with a background in art and literature, a lot of well-meaning people with MBAs told me how I should run my business. I felt pressured to listen to them, but I learned to trust my own instincts. If they knew exactly how to do it, they’d be doing it. My team and I are learning as we go, and trusting our gut has been the best lesson so far.
In addition to growing my business, I like to experiment with fermenting probiotic-rich foods in my own kitchen. From wild yeast in a homemade bread starter that produces an insanely satisfying sourdough bread, to lacto-fermented pickled vegetables that add the needed balance to a dish, or to the yeast and grape fermentation that makes a varietal of wines–fermenting has been a joy to experiment with.
Fermentation requires balancing acidity, temperature, and time, and I’ve grown to view my business the same way. It’s not just about how fast you can scale, it’s about putting the right things in and letting it grow.