After Selling His Amazon Business For Eight Figures At 28 Years Old, This Entrepreneur Wakes Up To New Possibilities Of Building A $100 Million Functional Coffee Brand

Entrepreneurial intuition came in quite handy for Robert Oliver when he was fresh out of college in 2014. The 23-year-old Washington State native, popularly known as the Genius CEO, never intended his personal tale to be anchored in a nine-to-five job; but instead, he chose to be guided by e-commerce guru Jeff Bezos’s “regret minimization framework” that later turned him into a multimillionaire within only five years.

The framework is essentially a heuristic model that encourages one to project themselves when they’re 80 years old, and make decisions to reduce as many life-long regrets as possible. That has made Oliver’s embarkation point of his Amazon
-powered supplements company, The Genius Brand, less intimidating.

“It’s always scary to take risks, but I think it’s scarier to wake up one day and realize life has passed you by,” he said.

Back in early 2010s when direct-to-consumer (DTC) just started maturing and selling consumer products via social media was still a novelty, Oliver found himself a sweet spot in building a viable business through Amazon, where customer acquisition cost was only a third of DTC, and marketing non-traditional supplements that aren’t typically available in GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe
, and retailers alike was a lot easier.

Starting with a caffeine-free pre-workout powder, The Genius Brand has expanded into the general wellness category over the years with products such as nootropics-boosted brain supplements, growing its annual revenue from $1.5 million to $30 million, just before it was acquired by a Georgia-based private equity for eight figures.

According to Grand View Research, the North American dietary supplements market size was valued at $50 billion in 2020, and is expected to grow at a 5.6% CAGR between 2021 and 2028. The segment continued to attract private equity in the years following the Genius deal.

In 2020, New Mountain Capital acquired Los Angeles-based supplements provider Natrol for $550 million, and merged the business with Jarrow Formulas, a vitamins brand it acquired during the same year. A year later, San Francisco-based PE, Gryphon Investors, acquired nutritional supplement company Metagenics from Alticor, PitchBook showed.

Unlike traditional CPG that need to consistently raise capital and buy shelf space before generating positive cashflow, Genius became profitable during its second month of operation on Amazon. That’s because, according to Oliver, there are more than 80,000 Prime users searching for pre-workout supplements per month, and successfully converting 20% of them would suffice a scalable business.

Running businesses on Amazon, however, can be costly as the platform typically charges sellers based on per item sold, referral fee (6-15% of the sale price), monthly inventory storage and fulfillment to variable closing fees. The secret sauce for yielding decent margins is to leverage the power of algorithm, or in Oliver’s own term, “a series of micro experiments of an odd obsession.”

“You have to be really into algorithm,” he stressed. “Amazon actually tells you what maximizes their dollar spent per customer visit — it all comes down to conversions, reviews, how you engineer your titles, all these little details,” which remain applicable to newer businesses that can now build more vivid storytelling through Amazon’s brand pages.

Then came the turning point. When the 28-year-old exited The Genius Brand in 2019, Oliver was met with more than just the amount of fortune he’s never had in his whole life: a career dilemma that later galvanized him into powering an online coaching platform that helps economically feasible brands scale on Amazon, and separately, a performance-driven coffee company, Top Shelf Grind.

This time around, however, rather than building it solely on Amazon, Oliver aims his new brand for mass retailers, including Walmart
, in the future, and ultimately transforms Top Shelf Grind into a $100 million brand.

“My thesis is an upgraded form of coffee consumption,” Oliver told me, capitalizing on what he believes to be a key trend in CPG — increasingly blurred lines between supplements and food. “It’s essentially a supercharged instant coffee bolstered by nootropic blends.”

On the packaging, embossed golden banner that reads “Break The Simulation” is boldly displayed, suggesting the product by no means targets the average shopper. “A lot of our customers are type A,” said Oliver.

Already generating $355,000 in sales in January, 2023 alone, Top Shelf Grind will be positioned as a “coffee-plus” brand with a number of unique products in the development pipeline, he continued, in addition to a mushroom-added ground coffee, a workout formula-inspired creamer, and a weight loss coffee in its portfolio. These items together are expected to put Top Shelf Grind on track to reach $5 million at year end.

It might still take years for Top Shelf Grind to reach its $100 million sales target, but the pure hit of connectivity Oliver builds between himself and his audiences through those fast-paced, yet enthralling Instagram videos about nutrition, wellness, and making it in real life is already enabling the brand to thrive.

After all, “I’m not so different from most people of my age, and I try not to think of managing my public image,” Oliver said. “I just found the right avenue, the right time, and I’m willing to go all in on it.”

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