For many millennial-aged people, fitness, nutrition and weight management aren't a burden to bear, but are part of a holistic, healthy lifestyle. This type of thinking can make for a much more contented outlook and perspective...and it has also led to an entire culture based on healthy living...and for investors, a major market opportunity.
Ryan Blair, CEO and co-founder of multi-level marketing company ViSalus Sciences is perhaps the poster child for how to engage with this market in a consistent and profitable way. Since founding ViSalus Sciences in 2005, Blair has gone on to become a New York Times best-selling author for his book Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: How I Went from Gang Member to Multimillionaire Entrepreneur.
Recently, Equities.com had the opportunity to speak with Blair on moving past his troubled youth, engaging with the millennial market, and today's business climate for entrepreneurs.
Check out the interview below:
EQ: Tell me about your experience moving from the inner city streets to becoming a well-respected business leader.
Blair: In 1994, my mother started dating a man, Robert Hunt, who would later become my stepfather. Bob was a real estate entrepreneur and a shrewd businessman, and he became my first real mentor. We moved into his house and I lived under his rules. I had a lot of mistrust left over from my father’s abuse, and Bob didn’t tolerate my criminal tendencies or stubbornness. I started college while I was still on probation (one of Bob’s house rules), and went from a “D” student with learning disorders to the Dean’s list in a short time. I became obsessed with technology and computers, and I got my first job as an engineer, and worked my way through college until I left to start my own company.
EQ: What sort of entrepreneurial experience did you have prior to founding ViSalus Sciences?
Blair: I’ve been an entrepreneur for 15 years, starting with my first company, 24/7 Tech, a computer repair business I started while I was in college. Shortly after selling my second venture, SkyPipeline in 2004, I was looking for the next big thing, and that’s when I was introduced to two extremely passionate young entrepreneurs, the co-founders of ViSalus, Blake Mallen and Nick Sarnicola. I was heavily into health and nutrition at the time and experimenting with different supplements, and the ViSalus products and company values (life, health, and prosperity) really appealed to me.
I became the CEO of ViSalus in 2005, and since that time we’ve been through almost every possible scenario—we sold the company to publicly traded Blyth Inc. in 2008, weathered the recession and almost went bankrupt, generated $624M in product sales and $97M in profit by 2012, nearly went public, and bought the company back from Blyth in 2014 for $143M. Currently, I am focused on rebuilding ViSalus entirely to my vision, and writing my second book Rock Bottom to Rock Star, which will be released October 4th, 2016, where I talk about all my entrepreneurial endeavors and the rock star formula for success, which can be used by anyone, in any type of business.
EQ: What do you look for in a potential investment opportunity?
Blair: In my first book Nothing to Lose, I have a quote, “I don’t buy stocks, I make stocks.” I typically invest in companies where I can have a meaningful impact and add value, or where I know the CEO and management team personally and I’m betting on the horse. In 2011, I started a VC fund called HashtagOne with my ViSalus co-founders and other business partners. We’ve executed over $800Min deals, generated over $1.5B in sales, and invested in more than nine ventures, including Elite Daily, Riveting Ent., FragMob, First Slice, Saucy, Heal, Sirkus, Meskita, Senstay, and others.
Currently, I’m investing in my own personal brand, my writing, my company ViSalus, which includes my co-founders and a vast salesforce around the world, and several residential real estate properties around Los Angeles. I look at investment opportunities all the time, especially anything that is accretive to my other investments or where I can leverage my prior knowledge.
EQ: What's the most important consideration when working with millennial-driven business ventures?
Blair: One thing I know is that it takes a millennial to know a millennial. Even though I’m only two years from being considered a millennial, I respect the differences. The music I grew up on, they didn’t. Our cultural references aren’t the same. They only know today’s environment, and most of them don’t have the scar tissue that some of us have from the internet bubble and the Great Recession.
If you’re looking at a millennial-driven business venture, my advice is to partner with a millennial. For instance, I partnered with Gerard Adams, the co-founder of Elite Daily, he sends me deal flow, and I trust his instincts about his generation.
EQ: If there was one piece of advice you’d like to impart to your readers, what would it be?
Blair: One piece of advice to keep in mind is that you have it better right now than anyone else has had it in the history of the world. There are sites like Equities.com where content is being written nonstop just to teach you, every motivational speaker and leader is available for free on YouTube, there are countless ways to contact various business mentors or reach out to potential partners—you have to take action. And if you don’t, it’s your own fault.
Even people being born today and tomorrow will have it better than you do because of the compounding nature of human knowledge and learning. We have a wealth of information at our disposal, so use it.
EQ: How have you found the business climate has changed for entrepreneurs in recent years?
Blair: Today you see companies go from zero to a billion overnight, or disrupt several industries at once, like Uber for instance making taxis nearly obsolete in just a few years, or Zappos that made instant gratification shopping online a new standard, or Amazon.com (AMZN) that has basically forced the once seemingly undefeatable Wal-Mart (WMT) to shut down stores. The business climate changes constantly, but now the rate of change has changed. The momentum of the Internet is just starting, and you’re going to see the extinction of old ways of doing business, and established companies falling apart as new solutions take their place, occurring much faster in the future.
EQ: What is your long-term goal?
Blair: The other day my son Reagan, who has autism, received a report after conducting a battery of tests. On the test results, he’s as low as three percent in some of the areas of learning, and in other areas, like math, he’s in the top 80%. My goal is to augment his weaknesses as best we can, and put him in his strength zone—take that 80 percentile to the 100 percentile.
My goal for myself personally is to do the same. Play to my strengths and augment my weaknesses. My strength is making money, and that’s what I plan to do.
EQ: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?Blair: Yes. Buy my book, Rock Bottom to Rock Star: Lessons from the Business School of Hard Knocks (Penguin Random House), when it comes out October 4th, 2016.
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