Who doesn't love a cold beer?
Hey everyone! Welcome back to this week's breakdown of the My Biggest Lessons podcast. This week, Chris Meade sat down with Austin Maxwell, co-founder of Kanga Coolers, to chat about what it was like turning a school project into a successful business that had a popular pitch on Shark Tank. Check out the full episode below! ⤵
There's nothing worse than sipping on a warm beer while spending your time poolside with friends on a hot summer day. 🙄
Austin and his group members, Logan and Ryan, definitely related to this sentiment as college-aged guys, and made it the core focus of their class project. The group was a little too focused on product testing (drinking beers, for science of course!), and they ended up getting a C on their project. However, Austin, Logan and Ryan knew they had a product with potential despite the mediocre grade, and got to work on what we now know as Kanga Coolers.
The brand started off with the Kase Mate, which is essentially a big beer koozie designed to slip over the entire case of beer or slim cans. The neoprene cooler comes in two sizes: 12 & 24-packs, and keeps drinks cold for up to 7 hours with no ice.
With a well-designed product and some big B2B sales already in hand, Austin and his partners auditioned for and got a spot on Shark Tank. Their high energy pitch landed them a $100,000 deal with Mark Cuban and is one of the most successful episodes of Shark Tank ever, with reruns every month that bring in guaranteed traffic and sales.
While Shark Tank helped launch their popularity, and organic social marketing kept their brand alive, there have been many lessons for Austin along the way. Want to read more about what it took to make Kanga Coolers into the successful brand it is today? Keep reading!
Shaking hands with other brands 🤝
Right from the jump, Austin and his team knew that making brand deals and partnerships with big names in the beer space such as Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors would be the key to unlocking their success. Their completely customizable neoprene product has led them to land large custom purchase orders, with brands buying Kanga products at wholesale and selling them at their own mark-up. These types of POs helped skyrocket their sales revenue to over $100,000, which was their goal before making an appearance on Shark Tank.
Another channel of success that Austin has found working with brands is through a partnership with Friday Beers. By adding an extra 100 units to a 500-piece order (at no extra cost to the brand), they would add the custom design to their Kanga Exclusives line on their own website, and give the brand royalties on sales.
Bootstrapping and grinding in the B2B space proved to be the right move for Austin with Kanga, and has helped them grow into the successful brand they are today.
Focus on DTC and B2B 👀
A lot of brands start out solely focused on DTC, but Kanga's approach was quite the opposite. Between partnering with big brands on custom POs and getting their products into big retailers like Ace Hardware, Austin and his team grinded in the B2B space before shifting some of their focus to DTC.
On the B2B side and to this day, trade shows have always been ROI positive for Kanga Coolers. With a few members of their team constantly on the road, they're able to close an education gap in how their product works, and demonstrate it for brands, investors, and even in DTC spaces such as concerts and festivals.
B2B has always been profitable for Kanga, but DTC marketing brings in 50-75% of their inbound leads, making it a sales channel they simply cannot neglect. A big lesson for Austin has been learning to focus on both channels, so if one side isn't profitable in that moment, they can lean on the other to bring in revenue.
Building your group 🏗️
Kanga Coolers got its start in a sort of non-traditional sense, as it was a class project in university. A big part of the group assignment was to build a real business, meaning the professor had each group sign real paperwork, including LLC and equity assignment. When Austin, Logan, and Ryan came to the realization that they had a product and business with real potential, they also quickly learned group members and friends aren't always the best business partners.
As the assignment had them sign real, legal paperwork, it took a lawyer, a chunk of money, and some time to part ways with the group members that had 20% equity but no interest in running the actual business. Austin's advice? If you're in a similar situation, whether it be with members of a group project or just friends, don't sign anything until you have at least a year of work under your belt and you're confident in wanting to run a real business.
Our host, Chris, also had some great advice: it's better to make friends within the business that you know will help grow your brand, rather than creating a business with a group of friends, which may leave the business (and your friendship!) in turmoil.
Going viral 🤳
For Austin, one of his biggest lessons running his brand is the power of TikTok and organic marketing. Kanga joined TikTok in January of 2020, posting entertainment-based content and quickly gaining 100,000 followers. Even though they had a big following at the time, they felt their fun, goofy content had little to no impact on their business, causing them to hit the brakes on the account.
Last summer, Austin and his team decided it was time to take a new approach to TikTok — blending in product education and their business journey with their usual fun, goofy content. Thanks to weekly strategy meetings and content filming, they were able to create viral content that ended up bringing in more website revenue than their Shark Tank episode.
The biggest lesson here is that while a lot of the content you spend time on may not go viral or have any ROI, having 1 or 2 videos that skyrocket in views and put your product in front of millions of new eyes is worth every moment of effort. Austin's advice to anyone trying to organically market their brand: don't neglect TikTok, and make sure that you're diversifying your content and messages.
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