How Aubrey Marcus Grew Onnit to $28 Million in Revenue

How Aubrey Marcus Grew Onnit to $28 Million in Revenue

Aubrey Marcus is obsessed with reaching his highest potential.

To help fuel his drive for optimizing performance, he founded Onnit — a nutritional supplements brand to help himself and others achieve peak performance in life and sports.

Today, the company is doing more than $28 million in yearly revenue. Niiiiiiiiiiice.

As he keeps running the company, Aubrey is not your everyday CEO:

  • He began his career selling sex toys (his stepdad invented the Fleshlight...)
  • During his spare time, he runs Ayahuasca Retreats (aka super mind altering drugs)
  • He has an open relationship with his fiancée — Miss United States 2012 — Whitney Miller

In part 1 of our conversation, we chatted about how Aubrey breaks the rules.

Today, in part 2, I wanted to dig into the juicy, untold stories of growing Onnit to a $28 million business.

In this episode, you’ll learn Aubrey’s 7 key tenants for business success. Use these lessons to grow your own business.

Here are Aubrey’s 7 key tenants for business success:

  1. Understand business relationships
  2. Find disproportionate opportunities to grow
  3. Stay focused
  4. Hire A+ players
  5. Understand influence
  6. Build a complete brand
  7. Let go of ego

1. Understand business relationships

“People have these weird ideas about reciprocity.”

I can’t tell you how many emails or tweets I’ve received asking to meet up. “Hey man, could I buy you a coffee next week? Would love to chat.”

I’m super grateful for these messages. Unfortunately, I just can’t meet everyone.

Whenever people ask me to coffee ALL THEY WANT TO DO is pepper me with a billion questions about starting a business:

First of all, I answer most of these questions on my blog.

Second of all, let’s break down the math…

I get $6 worth of coffee or tacos + I have to block out ~2 hours for this person + I give tons of free business advice = honestly does not make sense for Noah.

It’s not that I don’t like meeting new people. I enjoy it, but my time is better spent on high-leverage activities (like my YouTube channel) Or, upgrading my Mazda Miata...

👋 Blanca #miata

A post shared by Noah Kagan (@noahkagan) on

Whether it’s me or someone else, if you’re cold contacting someone you have to understand value exchange.

For example, Charlie Johnson won my “Best Day Ever” competition to come hang with me in Austin for a day. He won because he over-delivered and helped me grow my podcast.

Aubrey has similar experiences. Recently, a cold contact REALLY grabbed his attention by going above-and-beyond:

“Somebody made me a bad-ass custom knife set with his company’s knives with quotes engraved on them. That was really thoughtful.”

If you want to stand out, create REAL value for the people you want to meet.

Understanding the power of relationships has been key to Aubrey and Onnit’s incredible success. And Aubrey’s relationship with Joe Rogan has been at the top of the list.

How Aubrey Marcus met Joe Rogan

Comedian, TV presenter, podcast host and all-around badass, Joe Rogan is one of Aubrey’s partners at Onnit.

Their first interaction came when Aubrey was marketing Fleshlights (seriously).

Aubrey noticed Joe’s podcast getting attention online. So, he reached out to see if Joe was interested in advertising the product.

“We set up a podcast advertising deal with him when I went out to lunch. What was supposed to be a 30-minute meeting turned into a four-hour discussion on super volcanoes, psychedelics, and all the mutual interests we share.”

Fleshlights ended up becoming the first podcast sponsor for the Joe Rogan Experience. It was an oddly perfect fit:

“Joe liked not taking himself too seriously. To him, taking the sponsorship was his way of saying, ‘I'm not going to be so corporate.’

His handlers advised him not do that deal but he was like, ‘No I'm going to do that deal because I don't want people to look at me like a guru. I want people to know that I'm still Joe and I'm still someone who advertise a flashlight that you fuck.’”

Aubrey took the risk to reach out in the first place, and a friendship was formed.

They continued to stay in touch as Aubrey advertised on Joe’s show. Over time, they slowly became closer as they learned about their shared interests. Then, Aubrey eventually shared his new business idea, Onnit, with Joe.

While Aubrey was testing hangover supplements as one of Onnit’s first supplements, he asked Joe, “what supplement do you want the most?”

Joe wanted a nootropic (aka cognitive enhancer) that was based on herbs, plants, and 100% natural ingredients.

Because Aubrey asked a really good question, Joe gave him a really good answer which would change his business forever.

Aubrey had a new mission to make the best nootropic ever.

He talked to all the doctors he could, did a ton of research, and created the first prototype of Alpha BRAIN (one of Onnit’s flagship products).

There are three key takeaways from Aubrey’s relationship with Joe:

  1. Build genuine relationships and think long-term. It’s not about going in for the kill right away. Think about your ideal business partner. Who are they? How could you provide them value today and get the relationship started?
  2. Help first, sell second. Aubrey didn’t try to convince Joe to test out his hangover supplement. Instead, he asked him what product he would get the most value from and the made it. Without first helping Joe, they may have never partnered up on Onnit.
  3. Always overdeliver: Aubrey spent four months working on the prototype type for Alpha BRAIN. When he shipped it to Joe, he was confident it was the best nootropic available. He didn’t want to create “just another supplement.” He set out to be the best.

2. How Aubrey Marcus finds disproportionate opportunities to grow

When it comes to marketing, too many people think inside the box. They jump into already-crowded areas and get measly results:

Learning from others can be great, but sometimes the best opportunities are unexplored.

Advertising is most successful when there is market inefficiency.

For example, the first people to master Facebook ads received MUCH MORE value than people today. (I speak from experience. Go away, new advertisers!)

When Aubrey first met Joe Rogan, Joe’s podcast was fledgling and he had zero advertisers. Aubrey saw this as an opportunity.

Remember, a website or medium with a lot of eyeballs but no other advertisers means an inefficient market and a big-time opportunity.

It’s not just about advertising either. First-movers can get disproportionate results with relationships.

As Aubrey explains it:

“It's like the guy who buys a girl a drink and then expects to have sex. Maybe buying the drink gets you that first 10 seconds of conversation. From there you're on your own, buddy.”

In most cases, your sponsorship will get you in the door and give you a few moments to show your value. But if you’re one of the first advertisers on a platform, you’ll get more opportunity to cultivate relationships.

Hell, Joe Rogan is now a major Onnit shareholder. The relationship started when Aubrey reached out to him about advertising on his new podcast, which had no other advertisers yet.

Think about your niche. What niche websites or podcasts could you sponsor? When you’re ready to reach out, here’s the exact email I send. Keep it simple:

3. Stay Focused

“I'm really, really bad at saying no.”

No entrepreneur is perfect. And Aubrey Marcus’ biggest failure in business is his struggle to focus on the most important thing.

It’s even slowed down Onnit’s growth:

“It was important to develop total human optimization which covers a lot of ground. But at the same time, if we focused on our key five supplements more intensely from the start we could have grown a lot faster.”

Instead of always chasing “new” — new products, new ideas, new customers — hone in on one key area to really shine and deliver value.

Laser focus on one thing means you'll get it done. Find your sweet spot and go all in.

And it starts with a singular goal.

For me, it’s getting Noah Kagan Presents to 100,000 downloads per episode. That’s what I think about…

Every.

Single.

Day.

What’s the #1 most important thing to your business right now?

Answer the question and your focus every damn day is aimed at getting you closer to your goal.

4. Hire A+ players

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” -Steve Jobs

Hiring is the most important part of growing a business and it’s damn hard.

Aubrey sees his business as a living, breathing organism. As CEO, it’s Aubrey’s role to ensure the Onnit organism is as healthy as possible.

When Onnit first started, he hired a bunch of generalists aka “his bros.” In other words, people who would do a little marketing, customer service, mailing packages, and everything in-between.

As the team has grown from 20 to more than 150, the composition of the business has shifted, too. There aren’t many generalists left at Onnit now.

Instead, Aubrey has focused on hiring specialists who excel in specific fields:

  • Content creators to write for the Onnit Academy
  • Facebook Ads experts to handle Facebook marketing

Onnit’s brand is a key component of their hiring. A+ players want to work with the best people and do something bigger than themselves.

You can’t grow a company without having the best people.

Here are a couple of steps to find the best people:

  1. Stand out from the crowd: If you create a bad job description, you’re going to get bad candidates. If you put together an amazing listing, you’re going to get amazing candidates. It’s as simple as that.
  2. Test their work: Some people can sell themselves amazingly, but fall flat on their faces when it comes to delivering top-draw work. Set a challenge for every applicant and only interview the best.
  3. Headhunt: If someone is good at what they do, go get them. Don’t sit around on your ass waiting for them to come to you.

I’ve used this process to hire my 8-figure team of Sumo, AppSumo, and OkDork (check out my full hiring guide).

5. Understand influence

There’s a lot of hype around influencer marketing.

For Onnit, influencer marketing isn’t just a tactic to make a few more sales. It’s a part of their story and part of the fabric of the company.

The key lesson Aubrey’s learned about influencer marketing is, it's really about how much your audience trusts you.

It's not necessary to be the biggest name with the largest numbers of followers. Micro-influencers can be incredibly powerful.

For example, a celebrity with 12 million followers could post something saying Aubrey Marcus and Onnit are the second coming of Jesus, but it might not move the needle because the celebrity’s followers don't care about nootropics.

On the other hand, a small body hacks or supplements podcast with a loyal audience of 20,000 listeners can lead to a MASSIVE spike in revenue.

So how do you find micro-influencers?

  • Instagram: Search for hashtags relevant to your business or market and check out the “Top Post” search results to identify influencers.
  • Twitter search: Head to Twitter search, type in some keywords related to your business, and check out who’s talking about those topics.
  • Podcast search: Open up iTunes or Stitcher and head to the search page. Type in some keywords and identify some potential partners (look for podcasts ranked from top 50 in the charts, you want people who have a small, but dedicated listener base).

Another influencer marketing lesson Aubrey has learned is: When it comes to influencer marketing, you don’t have to always be selling (Click to Tweet).

When someone comes in contact with your brand they should enjoy the experience and get something beneficial from it.

You don’t have to sell anything to create value for your business.

This is also my exact strategy with Noah Kagan Presents and OkDork.

I’m trying to deliver as much value as possible without asking for anything directly in return. These posts, guides, and tactics take HOURS to produce, but I do it for free because I like sharing cool stuff.

6. Build a complete brand

Onnit’s brand message is 💯

“Total Human Optimization.”

F yeah. How epic is that?

The Onnit brand lives up to it in a couple ways, too:

  • Physical products and supplements to improve your health and wellbeing.
  • Onnit Academy online resources and exercise routines to help optimize your life.
  • Incredible social media content to inspire action.

Wherever you touch the Onnit brand, their message is loud and clear. “We’re gonna help you kick ass at life.”

Having a clear message keeps you on the right path, too. If something doesn’t fit with Onnit’s “Total Human Optimization” mantra, it won’t see the light of day.

The most precious commodity in business is attention.

The businesses that win are the ones that grab you and keep you engaged, no matter your touchpoints.

(This is why we’re always trying to feature the BEST products on AppSumo, and make the BEST website traffic tools at Sumo.)

To be successful you have to create a brand for your target audience to LOVE. Aubrey explains:

“Having a clear mission is really important. When you know your mission, you know you're willing to make sacrifices along the way for the mission.”

7. Let go of ego

Ego might seem important for entrepreneurs.

But once you get going, ego can quickly become your enemy. For Aubrey, an important lesson in growing Onnit to $28 million in revenue was learning to let go of his ego:

“I try not to let my ego get too attached to any one idea, and I try to teach myself to be happy to be wrong.”

Start every day ready to learn.

Ego has cost me big time, too. At Facebook, I got fired aka “let go” aka “down-sized” aka “shit-canned” partly because of my pride.

Ouch, Mr. Zuckerberg. 😭

I wanted attention, and I put myself before Facebook. I hosted events at the office, published things on this blog to get attention, and thought I was “above” some of the rules.

Bottom-line, I thought I was the shit, and I let it get in the way of my growth mentality, instead of searching for answers and trying to learn. I thought I knew it all.

To be a successful entrepreneur, remind yourself of humility. Ask for help, ask for answers, and listen to different opinions.

Don’t let your ego get in the way of success.

Figure out your strengths and weaknesses. Ask others for feedback and learn to not take everything personally.

Here’s something you can do right now to get started. Copy-and-paste the below, fill in the blanks and send it to 5 friends or colleagues:

Hey [FRIEND NAME],

Wanted to ask a quick question. Trying to improve myself.

What’s the first thing you think I should work on?

-[YOUR NAME]

If you want more lessons from Aubrey Marcus and Onnit to grow your business, check out my full podcast below.

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