Gretta Rose van Riel, Founder, SkinnyMeTea
Gretta Rose: Building a Global Empire Over a Cup of Tea
Deck: How Gretta Rose van Riel uses social media and marketing mastery to spin her growing arsenal of products into gold.
So you’re looking for that One. Big. Idea. Or maybe you’ve found it, and you’re building a cunning plan to market it to the masses. But why stop at one? Gretta Rose van Riel certainly didn’t, and that’s why, at the tender age of 25, she boasts a professional rap sheet longer than most career entrepreneurs.
Founder and director at SkinnyMe Tea, co-founder of The Fifth Watches, founder of Nichify, founder of DROP Bottle, a startup’s growth advisor. A cool 15 million in Instagram reach. Van Riel has been busy since she launched her career by beating out 10,000 other entrepreneurs in Shopify’s 2013 Build-A-Business Competition. But for the serial startup boss and global Instagram queen, it’s all in a day’s work.
Note: Here are just seven of Gretta’s most popular Instagram accounts. She has dozens more.
It all started back in May 2013 when, while working her first job out of college, a little idea for a product called “teatox” visited van Riel in a dream. It proved to be the apparition that would spark a multimillion-dollar global industry.
“At the time, I had been doing a lot of detoxes and I loved tea. I’d also been going to a new health food store that had all kinds of different teas and blends, so had started to brew my own. Once I had done my own little teatox, I asked my friends if they wanted to try it. All of a sudden a lot of their friends wanted to as well.”
Faced with significant early demand from within her own networks, van Riel set up a website and Instagram page, thinking she would sell a few packs on the side to supplement her income.
“At the time, I thought, what’s the easiest, cheapest way to get more people to my website? I had been able to grow my own personal Instagram account quite quickly, so I saw an opportunity. It took me about four hours to build the website and put the product up on Shopify, even though I didn’t even have the product in store at that point. I ended up selling four packs on the first night, to people I had never met before. I just couldn’t believe it.”
With Instagram only just rising to prominence, van Riel noticed few companies were leveraging the platform effectively as a marketing tool, so she jumped in feet first to gain some quick traction. By the end of the year, orders for SkinnyMe Tea were flying out all across the country. Having won the 2013 Shopify competition, van Riel herself ended up on a plane to New York to receive mentoring and other prizes. It was time to jettison the day job.
Inevitably, skyrocketing from zero dollars in revenue to $600,000 in under six months was an enormous adjustment for van Riel.
“I had studied marketing and communications, but I lacked any real business experience. I didn’t even know how to set one up!” In her first year, van Riel was operating just as a sole trader, comparable to a sole proprietor in the US, and missing out on the financial benefits of filing as a small business.
“But mostly our growing pains had to do with stock levels—we were constantly running out. My boyfriend and I would run around Melbourne trying to find different tea suppliers who could supply in bulk, and quickly.”
They found a decent supplier, but in the early days, getting their hands on large quantities of tea at the quality they wanted was proving very difficult. While they were struggling with the supply side, the demand was clearly strong and that was thrilling. “It kept me going through those 16-hour days in the beginning.”
Compounding the fact that they were growing at a rapid rate was the fact that, like many startup founders, van Riel was trying to accomplish everything herself, feeling completely feeling guilt ridden when others pitched in. She was handling customer service herself, manually fielding 300 to 400 emails a day, before she discovered services like Zen Desk and developed a team to handle that side of the business.
“At the time, I was managing customer service, manufacturers, distribution—everything. I didn’t know that there were third party companies you could hire who could take the load off in certain areas. I’d never heard of dropshipping or experienced anything in ecommerce before. I just thought you had to take it all on yourself. Luckily, now I’ve learned better ways of managing things.”
Finding the secret sauce
While van Riel is self-effacing when it comes to her lack of early business know-how early on, her natural flair for marketing shines through in a big way in all of her products. Across each brand is a distinct polish and realness that reflects van Riel’s commitment to creating a rich, layered customer experience. The fact that van Riel is able to inspire loyalty from customers so quickly is a direct result of expertly targeted and timed products, tied to finely honed messaging.
“With my product businesses, I’ve found it most helpful to look at a successful trending product, and then change one element or one dimension of that product. It’s about making a product better, and also utilizing your existing audience.”
That’s van Riel’s number one piece of advice for ecommerce entrepreneurs: Focus on product, but also give around half of your time to your market, building up your accounts and email database.
“It’s a big misconception in ecommerce, that if you just build a beautiful product, take beautiful photos, and build a website, people will come to it. As many of us know, that’s not the case.”
Van Riel learned very early on that nailing her products’ unique selling point was absolutely key to their success. When she launched SkinnyMe Tea, while other detox teas existed, they weren’t organized into a program. Tailoring her offering into 14 and 28-day programs was simple, and it proved to be her game-changer—customers reported the programs made results more achievable, which is ultimately what they were after.
She had a similar experience with online watch store The Fifth, creating a unique marketing strategy that makes products available during a short window each month.
“We limited the time they were available, so they became a bit more exclusive. I wouldn’t recommend it for an ecommerce first-timer, because you have to really get your funnels perfect. But confining the sales period has been really important for us.”
It’s a formula that clearly works. Since launching in early 2015, The Fifth has already surpassed SkinnyMe Tea in earnings, exploding to $1.2 million in sales last December. Similarly, van Riel’s DROP Bottles, also on the market since 2015, have been flying out the door, with the company attracting numerous Instagram heavy-hitters to its brand influencer program.
Insta-hacks: The nitty gritty
Growing brands and followers at warp speed is clearly not a fluke. Van Riel’s Instagram influence extends to 15 million users, across her numerous accounts and audience niches. Getting people’s attention within an area of interest and strategically targeting them with a product has clearly been another masterstroke.
“Back in 2013, when we won the Shopify Award, Shopify flew us to New York to meet with a lot of mentors and advisers, including Tim Ferriss, Daymond John, and Eric Ries. For the first time, I realized I wasn’t just stumbling upon something—it wasn’t just luck. I was doing something quite different and unusual. Most of that was to do with audience building.”
Knowing not all Instagram users would be prepared to follow a product page, or one that is heavily branded, van Riel took a step back and explored how to create growth funnels. After identifying several popular market verticals, she set about creating posts for those demographics, seeding them with high-quality visual content and funneling interested customers back to her business pages.
Building followings across different verticals has been a big key to success.
“Success definitely has a lot to do with your content strategy—not just identifying a product that’s trending, but content that’s trending in verticals around your product.
Your focus should be content, engagement, growth, and then conversion. Start with content—look at what’s popular in your industry or vertical, visit like-minded pages, see what’s working and use it as a guide. Then move on to people engaging with that content, which might be starting off with some hashtags.”
Van Riel then suggests that, when you’re ready to push a product ad, make it as organic and authentic as possible by offering real insights and incentives to click across, like free resources. Then, consider joining forces with other pages that have a similar product or reach.
“You can work with other members of the community and mutually help each other to grow using tactics like Shout for Shout (S for S). I don’t suggest buying fake likes or followers, because vanity metrics won’t help you get any conversions, which is what you’re ultimately trying to do. Instagram also knows when you do this and will penalize your account.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, van Riel has been working with several others to find a way to get ahead of the Instagram popular post algorithm, and start to influence it. And they think they might have just cracked the code.
“We think it’s actually about engagement through engaged accounts. So, not engagement as in 2,000 ‘like bots’ just liked your photo, but that 200 highly engaged, well followed accounts did.”
The drill their team has worked out involves posting three to six photos at once, then liking them all
from their other various accounts within 15 minutes, which lands them on the popular or explore page. Another trick: in the caption of your own post, write “follow” and then your user name, which is the equivalent of shouting yourself out. It will look a little silly to people who already follow you, but is a call to action for new people who spot your photo on the explore page.
This strategy has paid off big time for van Riel’s team. She recently started a new page as a test and built up 36,000 followers in four days with huge engagement, reaching nearly 50% on some posts.
You can also take advantage of changing norms on the platform itself, if you act fast. For example, video posts are hot right now, she’s finding. Video is less established than still photos on Instagram at the moment, so the service is currently allowing more video posts on the popular page. Videos also have their own explore page now, meaning you can get double the engagement.
Van Riel also suggests taking advantage of the fact that Instagram rewards your account based on how active you are. Posting consistent, quality content 8-10 times a day, around the clock, is the most effective way to gain momentum.
“Consistency and momentum are two of the biggest factors around recurring growth. A really good new app I downloaded is Prime for Instagram. It analyzes your Instagram follower base and tells you the best time to post, based on when they’ll be the most engaged.”
Compartmentalize and conquer
With half a dozen companies, multiple offices, and new products coming out on a regular basis, it would be an understatement to say van Riel has competing priorities. But she simply likens juggling her many responsibilities to learning different subjects in school.
“I have always liked to do a lot of subjects and keep my mind in different areas. It’s just like that when I move from one company to another—you have to completely switch from one topic to the next, so your brain is constantly fresh. You don’t necessarily overuse all of your energy on the one project. Working on the one thing all the time, it can be like running around in circles. As long as you have a great team around you, there’s no reason why you can’t do multiple things.”
Getting her ducks in a row, from a business process perspective, has also been a major factor. Having things heavily systemized makes it possible to create synergies between her businesses, and helps to not overstretch herself or her team.
“With modern ecommerce, everyone wants everything yesterday, so we have a third party logistics provider with consolidation centers in Melbourne, Hong Kong, the UK, and US, which makes shipping a lot faster. Once you have everything systemized it actually becomes a model, so we’re able to use similar contacts for other products.”
Aside from using outside services, van Riel uses time management techniques as simple as writing things down physically. She’s also careful to split her time up wisely, and be ready to quickly pivot in the direction her company’s heading, prioritizing based on what really needs to be done.
“Productivity-wise, it’s really about ignoring irrelevant things or delegating those things, and just focusing on your top priorities.”
- Learn the easiest and cheapest way to build a website for your business
- Important Insights on how to use Instagram to help start, grow and build up your brand account
- Learn how to identify trends and physical products that you can successfully sell online
- How to get your perfect funnel for you to start selling immediately
- The do’s and don’ts of E-commerce
Full Transcript of Podcast with Gretta Rose van Riel
Nathan: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Foundr Podcast. My name is Nathan Chan and I am your host coming to you live from Melbourne, Australia. Now what’s going on in the world of Foundr? I am recording this episode during our big launch for Instagram Domination 2.0, one of our paid courses and things are super, super hectic but I gotta keep on top of the schedule. I have to be honest, guys. This is probably the hardest I have ever worked in my life, and I hope that’ll be a correlation in regards to, I guess, the result that we have from the launch. It is kicking off well. You know, we’ve had, oh, geez, you know, close to 100,000 people watch our 4-part video series which is a…it’s a sideway sales letter and we’re doing the Jeff Walker Product Launch Formula. Whole another story. I can probably talk about this, and I’ll get Jonathan and the team and the content guys to write up some epic blog posts, but things are going well. Pretty hectic. Hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. Just recording this intro, wow, at 1 a.m.
All right. So that’s what’s happening in my world. I’m really excited about today’s guest. Her name is Gretta Rose van Riel and she’s from Melbourne and she is an absolute superstar entrepreneur, Instagrammer, startup founder, growth hacker, social media master, and she says so much gold. Like some super, super interesting Instagram secrets that I didn’t even know about. You know, how she validates her business ideas, how one of her companies called the 5th Watches generated $1.3 million in sales last month. And they only opened up sales for one day which is insane. She runs so many different companies. She runs the 5th Watches, SkinnyMe Tea, DROP Bottle, Nichify, and she’s a startup advisor to a few other companies as well. I don’t know how she does it. You’re gonna hear how she does it. And she really is, I guess, probably the biggest master on Instagram that I have met, spoken to and you guys are gonna love this one. She’s an absolute superstar.
All right, guys. So this will be the last episode in regards to, I guess, talking about all things Instagram. You know, we’ve got a big Instagram Domination 2.0 promotion going on and, you know, we’re talking about all things Instagram at the moment on the blog, the podcasts, you know, on our newsletter, and this will be the last one. And stay tuned for next week’s episode. I know you’re gonna love it. It has Gary V. and he is the absolute man.
All right, guys. That’s it from me. If you are enjoying these episodes, please, please, please do take the time to leave us a review or do check out the magazine at foundrmag.com/app, and you can see the fruits of our labor. If you’re enjoying these interviews, I’m sure you’re gonna love the magazine.
All right, guys. Now let’s jump into the show.
So thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Gretta.
Gretta: Thanks, Nate. I’m really excited to be here actually. I’ve been listening to your podcasts and reading your magazine for a while so I’m pretty pumped to be on the show.
Nathan: Yeah, yeah. Look, I’ve seen your work for afar. You’re a fellow Melbournian and, look, it’s safe to say you’re absolutely crushing it right now on all fronts, social media, growth hacking, e-commerce, product. So, yeah, look, I know our audience are gonna love to hear your insights.
So I guess the first question that I ask everyone that comes on is how did you get your job?
Gretta: Job’s a funny word for it. So I guess it all started back in 2012, May actually. So we’re coming up to 4 years somehow. I was 22 years old. I was working fulltime in my first job straight out of uni at an advertising agency in the city. I was helping them with the print to digital transition actually. And I was reporting directly to the CEO, which was quite a substantial role for…I think I was 21 when I first started the job. And he’d give me three weeks of work and I’d end up finishing it in about three days and eagerly going back to him and saying, “Okay. Michael, what can I do now?” And he’d be like, “Oh, can you just kind of wait?” And I didn’t really like the idea of waiting so in my spare time at work, I hate to admit, and out of work, I started SkinnyMe Tea, which was a bit of a passion project at the time. I had been doing a lot of detoxes actually recently in the time. And I love tea at the same time. And I’ve been going to a new health food store that had all different blends and all different kinds of tea and I’d started to mix up my own. And so once I’ve done my own little detox with tea, which I called a Teatox, which is now quite a substantial market actually, I asked my friends whether they wanted to try it. And a lot of them were really keen and then their friends started asking as well and I was like, “Wow, okay. Well, I know within my demographic there’s a huge interest and a huge want for this product,” so I could create a little website and maybe sell a few packs on the side to supplement my existing wage.
So I actually started an Instagram account for the business and Instagram was really only just taking off personally in 2012 and there were almost no companies on Instagram at that time. But I’ve been able to grow my own personal account quite substantially quite quickly so I kinda saw the opportunity and thought, “Okay, what’s the easiest, cheapest way to get some more people seeing my website?” So I built the website on Shopify, which was really straightforward and easy. It took me maybe like four hours. I’ve never built a website before. Put the product up. Didn’t even have the product in stock actually. It was a big presale model. I had $24 in my bank account at the time, which mostly went into the hosting fees for my website. And ended up selling four packs on the first night to people that I’ve never met before which I just couldn’t believe.
So I started to keep marketing through Instagram in the same way. Back then there weren’t right limits on accounts so I went through and I systematically followed all my friends. Then all of their friends until I felt like I’d followed every girl of around the similar age group, demographic in Melbourne. Then I moved on to Sydney. I was like, “Okay. Who do I know in Sydney?” followed them and all their friends. Moved on to Brisbane. And to this day, Melbourne, which was the city that I kind of followed first and knew the most people from, has actually been our biggest selling city. And we now have over 300,000 customers worldwide. So that was a pretty interesting fact so…
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Gretta: Yeah. It was pretty…it was exciting. And yeah. So the company moved really quickly and it kinda got to the point where I could no longer work my fulltime job and had to stop that and start this, which ended up being a pretty good decision because I’m just absolutely loving what I do.
Nathan: Yeah, wow, fantastic. And can you tell us, like, growth pains because you guys were growing very, very fast. Can you wrap some more numbers around it? You have quite a sizeable Instagram account. You have many different Instagram accounts, which I’m sure people will be very fascinated and interested about because, you know, some people might see just SkinnyMe Tea, but they don’t know you’ve got like 10 other fan pages that drive traffic to certain places. You’ve got all these crazy things going on. So can you give us a little bit of an insight to that and that whole world?
Gretta: Yeah, that’s a pretty large question, Nate. Growth pains first. So we were growing very, very quickly and I had absolutely no background in business at that stage. I had a background in marketing. I studied media and communications at Melbourne Uni and I honestly didn’t even know how to set up a business. I was a sole trader for the first year of my company, which was a huge…
Nathan: Oh, wow.
Gretta: Pain in the end as I got taxed at a sole trader level rather than a small business level, which was quite substantial. So that was a huge issue. But yeah. Just the growth of the company. We grew from $0 revenue to about $600,000 U.S. revenue a month in under 6 months so…
Gretta: Of course, huge growth pains had to do with the stock levels. We were constantly running out of stock, and my boyfriend and I at the time were just running around Melbourne trying to find different tea suppliers that could supply so much in bulk so quickly. We found…we came across another supplier in New South Wales that we ended up entering into kind of a longer standing contract with, but actually getting your hands on that much tea in bulk in the quality that we wanted was really, really difficult at the time. So yeah. We definitely didn’t have the supply side in order at all, but the demand was there and that was just so exciting that it kind of kept you going for those 14 hour days, 16 hour days at the very start.
So yeah. We were…we grew really quickly and it was quite scary at the time.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. And how did you manage to keep up? Like you said, you’re working 14 to 16 hour days. When you go through these growth pains in terms…especially in terms of, you know, fulfilling stock like selling physical products, did you look to have some sort of central distribution or like… Because, yeah, you would’ve have been getting orders all around the world and stuff so that would be problematic as well.
Gretta: So look, to begin with, I was a bit silly and thought that as a founder you had to do everything yourself, and if anybody else did anything…I didn’t understand the concept of staff. If anybody else did anything I felt absolutely guilt ridden. So I was taking control of the customer service. We were getting maybe close to 300, 400 emails a day and that wasn’t systemized at the time. Now we use Zendesk for our customer service and you can just apply macros, which are kind of prefilled question responses which has really taken the load off customer service wise, and of course touch the customer service I have a customer success team. But at the time I was managing the customer service, I was managing the manufacturers, I was managing the distribution ourselves. So we had close to 30 staff to begin with distributing the product. We were practically running our own mini logistics system and because I’d never had any background in business before, I didn’t understand that there were third party companies that can help you and can take the load off. I’d never heard of dropshipping and I’d never experienced anything in e-commerce before. So I just thought you had to take it all on yourself.
So luckily now I’ve learned better ways of managing things. We have everything systemized, we have a third party logistics provider with consolidation centers in Melbourne, Hong Kong, the U.K., the U.S., which makes shipping a lot faster because of course, you know, in modern e-commerce everybody wants everything yesterday. It’s just a lot of an easier way to actually be able to start something out. And once you’ve got that systemized and down pat, you’re actually…it’s a model. So we’re able to use similar contacts for all product businesses. So the 5th runs off quite a similar model to what SMT was able to achieve and systemize.
Nathan: Yeah, okay, I see. And before we get into this Instagram growth hacking piece, I’ve got heaps of questions, but you talked about the 5th. Let’s talk about some of the other companies that you run because you’ve kind of taken that…you seem to find these really hot products and, you know, put them on social media and get them to spread virally. Physical products they tend to be. Tell us about, you know, that kind of…how you identify these trends and your other products.
Gretta: Yeah. So I’m kind of…with the 5th, that was a bit different. That was another passion project. My business partner and I, Alex McBride, started the 5th when he was in Melbourne, I was in New York. We both wanted to create a product that emulated the style of both of those major cities because we’d gotten to this date conversation about the things we loved about both those cities and kind of the New York classic landscape, and the Melbourne, more contemporary, minimal aesthetic. And so we actually started the 5th based more off the style of the cities. And the reason it’s called the 5th was actually because when we came up with the concept, I was on 5th Avenue at the time. And in the end, it turned into actually our selling model. So we sell a range of classic times minimal, unisex time pieces for five days a month on the 5th of each month actually. So we use a limited availability model, which has been quite interesting. I wouldn’t suggest it for a first timer in e-commerce because you have to really get your funnels perfect or you’re actually…you’re just not gonna sell anything. And of course, it’s very tempting to sell every day of the month, but yeah. So confining that sales period has been really important for us.
And with my product businesses, I found it most helpful to look at a successful trending product, like watches for example. Suddenly watches just boomed on social media and changing one element of the product or one dimension of the product. So with SkinnyMe Tea, that dimension was time as well. So there were detox teas on the market already, but they weren’t systemized into a program, they weren’t easy to use, and they were just ongoing over time. So we put ours into a 14 and 28-day program and people found those results more achievable. And the same with the 5th. We, rather than just selling a time piece per se, we decided to limit the time available so that they’re a bit more exclusive, even though the price range is quite affordable. So we use a mix of inclusivity and exclusivity in our marketing for the 5th. So once you’re in to the club, which we call our 5th Fam, once you’re inside, it’s a very inclusive, inviting atmosphere, but from the outside it’s quite exclusive. You need to join our waiting list. You need to go through a few different processes before you’re on the inside, which has been a really interesting way of marketing for us.
Nathan: I think it’s pretty smart though because you’re getting people to qualify themselves to…before they even get the opportunity to buy. Plus, you’re using scarcity which…you know, we use scarcity in a lot of our marketing campaigns and we know it works very, very well. So how are things going with that model? Is it…you’re successful?
Gretta: Yeah. Well, the 5th’s actually even more successful than SkinnyMe Tea now so…
Nathan: Okay, wow.
Gretta: Well, the average purchase price is obviously a bit higher but also we were able to grow from nothing again a year ago, to in December our sales were quite high. We did $1.2 mil in our 5-day selling period which was a huge, huge, exciting time for us.
Nathan: Yeah, geez. That’s really impressive. And like walk us through some of your other products because what else…something that you said that I find really interesting as well is…because so many people, when they think they have to come up with a new business idea, it has to be something 100% unique, but you’re saying you’re finding trends and then making that product better, that product or service better.
Gretta: Yeah. Definitely. And it’s either about making it better or utilizing an existing audience that you already have. So like Nate with Foundr, you already have 500,000 followers on Instagram. It would make a lot of sense that you sell guides to how to grow your Instagram following. Sorry, 600,000 is it now?
Nathan: Yeah, 600,000, yeah.
Gretta: So actually with one of my newer products, DROP Bottle, which is a water infuser…a fruit infuser drink bottle. We already had a following of nearly a million followers on a different vertical page that I own called Detox Water on Instagram. So it kinda made sense that we already had this large audience and we decided we’d tailor a product to that audience. So there’s kind of two ways of going about it. There’s creating a product and changing a dimension or improving the product even minimally and selling that based of its unique value proposition, or there’s working with what you’ve got already and working with what you can build yourself and launching to an existing audience. That would be probably my number one piece of advice would always be that while you’re focusing on the product side and improving your product, at the same time you should be giving 50% of your time to your market. So you should be building up your accounts, building up your email database at the same time as you’re putting all your energy and efforts into your product. That’s…it’s such a misconception in e-commerce that if you build a beautiful product, take beautiful product photos and make a great website that people will come to it. And as a lot of us know, that’s not the case.
Nathan: So look, tell us about…how many other products do you have? I’m curious or…that you invested in and these are…you know, you drive a majority of your traffic through word of mouth or social media.
Gretta: Yeah. I’ve got about five different product companies now. The 5th and SMT is still the major ones.
Gretta: Then of course there’s DROP Bottle, there’s Skintox Co. which is a newer one we’re releasing soon which is a detox skincare range. And there is…
Nathan: You’ve got too many. You’ve got too many companies. Like yeah. Look, I don’t know how you’re doing this, Gretta. It’s really impressive. That’s okay. We can come back to that one and I’m sure it’ll come to you. But let’s move on to this growth hacking stuff because I’m super impressed with how you grow these companies at such a speed. You kind of say like…you kind of say as if…you’re very humble. Like you’re getting lucky but you’re definitely not. I wanna know, you know, how do you find out these answers that, you know…and all this knowledge you have because you have no background in startups and, you know, this is all new to you. First of all, how do you find the answers, and talk us through like maybe your…like your latest product that you started, how would you grow that over social media, in particular Instagram? Like let’s talk some strategies. What would you do?
Gretta: Okay. Well, to begin with, I didn’t have any background in business, but then luckily through some opportunities that came about from SkinnyMe Tea actually, to begin with, I was able to gain a lot more business insight. I’ve had some incredible mentors. I’ve met some incredible people that…some of which you’ve actually interviewed on this show. So back in 2013, we won the Shopify Build a Business Award, which meant that Shopify flew us to New York to meet with a lot of different mentors and different advisors including Tim Ferriss, Daymond John, Eric Ries of The Lean Startup and a lot more. And that was kind of the first time that I realized that I wasn’t just stumbling upon something. Like you said, it wasn’t just all luck, that I was doing something that was quite different and unusual, and that a lot of the people within that competition that were other winners as well were doing a similar thing and that was…mostly had to do with audience building.
So Instagram was definitely the area that I was most comfortable in, and I kind of identified the fact that not everybody is willing to follow a product page per se, especially for SkinnyMe Tea. Not everybody wants to follow… I had a page that has the word “skinny” in it, unfortunately. I just thought it sounded cute at the time. I wasn’t trying to enter into any paradigms or discourses surrounding weight in that way. And B, that we’re very branded. So I thought of funnels in general and I thought of growth funnels online, and it has to do with identifying a lot of different verticals. So I split down the verticals within SkinnyMe Tea, for example, and I split those mostly into food and nourishment side, and then fitness and health side. So then I started building out pages across Instagram in the food and fitness demographics, and then kind of funneling those interested customers back into the business page and onto our website through those. So we were able to, over time, build up a following of over 15 million Instagram followers. So across my different accounts, which include Vines for example, @vines on Instagram. That’s been a very popular one. It grows organically. Every 2 to 3 weeks, it grows a 100,000 followers on its own just because of the name and because of the engagement on the account. So that’s got 5.3 million followers now, 5.4 million by today, I would hope. Because it’s about to tick across actually.
And yeah. So building up those Instagram pages across verticals was really, really helpful for us in not only relying solely upon your product page.
Nathan: Yeah, I see. So when you say building up pages, just for the audience, you’re saying that you build these fan type enthusiast kind of pages which are just, I guess, like a vision board that inspire people or, you know, they might be…they would follow that page because you know you’re not…it’s about a certain niche or topic that people can get behind and it’s not a brand page, it’s not a business page. People who aren’t gonna be sold to, or the assumption is there that it’s…there’s not gonna be much ads or product pushes or anything like that, right?
Gretta: Yeah, definitely. And when you do do an ad or a product push, you want that to be as organic and authentic as you possibly can. So you want to offer real insights and you want to offer incentives to actually click across and follow something. So we might offer…we have an Instagram account called @freeeatingplan on Instagram. And they click through to our website and they get a free eating plan that they can download and use during their detox. So adding those incentives has been really, really important in our content strategy, and through various sources, and other content strategies like that have been really, really helpful for us.
Nathan: I see. So if somebody was starting out, you know, like let’s say you were starting from scratch again, you know, you’ve got this e-commerce based product, you’ve identified a trend or something that is quite hot maybe on social media or you think it’s coming. What would you do? Like how would you go about building an Instagram account? You’d start a couple, you’d start a couple of fan pages. Then build up the brand account. What other tactics there. Can we delve a bit deeper?
Gretta: Are we assuming that I don’t have my 15 million followers?
Nathan: Yeah. Let’s assume that you don’t. What would you do from scratch?
Gretta: Let’s assume I’ve got zero followers.
Gretta: The first thing I’d do is read your guide on how to build followers.
Nathan: Oh, thank you.
Gretta: It’s one of the best resources I’ve actually read on Instagram on building an Instagram following. That’s why I’ve reposted it on our blog and everything. It definitely has a lot to do with your content strategy. So it’s kind of identifying, not only the product that’s trending at the time, but the content that’s trending in the verticals around your product at the same time. So on Instagram right now, if you wanted to do a skin product, tutorials are trending on the popular page or on the explore page at the moment. So you might build up a tutorial page at the same time and then advertise the skin product onto that page. But the way that I’d start building a page would definitely be content, engagement, growth and then conversion. So you’d start with content and you’d have a look what was quite popular within your industry. See other likeminded pages and see what’s going really well on those pages, and then use those as a kind of content guide for yourself. Then you’d move on to people engaging with that content, and that might be in terms of starting off with some hashtags so that you get some further engagement on your post.
Nathan: Target audience. Yeah. Target audience.
Gretta: Yeah, for sure. But Nate, yeah. I don’t know. It’s hard. I wouldn’t use…I hate it when people say like, “Oh, use hashtags, use this.” I know that they’re the starting points, for sure, but it’s actually more about joining with other pages that have a similar demographic and a similar reach to you.
Nathan: So yeah. Let’s talk about…yeah. Let’s keep going. Let’s keep going. But we wanna talk about S for S and stuff like that too.
Gretta: Yeah, for sure. So S for S, like you’ve identified in your post, is a concept of shout out for shout out, which means that you would collaborate with another page. I loved your concept of collaboration over competition actually.
Nathan: Oh, well, thank you.
Gretta: You collaborate with another page and you mutually help each other grow. So it’s great to find a page that has a similar following to you. Say you have…you’re starting off with 500 followers. If you can find another page that has a similar style, similar visual elements, similar content strategy and a similar amount of followers, there’s no reason why you can’t take half of those followers and become 750 followers again. So then you team up with a page that has 750 followers or multiple pages that do and you shout each other’s content, which is you would post their photo. They would in turn post a photo from your page and they’d mention your page like, “Hey, check out my friend’s new page.” Or, “Follow @weightlosssecrets for actionable tips on how to lose some extra kilos.”
So that’s one strategy. At the same time, I understand that that is a really, really important strategy, but also if you don’t want to lose some of your engagement on your page through shout outs, then a shout out for shout out, you can always pay for shout outs. So you can pay a page, another inspiration style account, to post your content and grow more organically through that.
Nathan: Okay. So have a strong focus on the content, you create a couple of fan pages that would drive traffic to the business page, whether it’s via the link in the bio or getting people to follow that business page. You do S for S, paid and unpaid, totally up to you. Now something that I’m dying to hear is when we caught up the other week for coffee, you said to me, “Nathan, that was an amazing guide. You know, you post great stuff on Instagram, but there was one thing that I think you’re missing.” Please tell us that one thing.
Gretta: I got you. This is a very new thing. And I’ve been working closely with a lot of my friends and associates on Instagram to kind of try to crack the algorithm of the explore page on Instagram. So as you can imagine, an explore page would…how would you pick a piece of content that was trending if you were Instagram? And that would be through, of course, engagement and that makes a lot of sense. But knowing as Instagram that there are ways to feign engagement, like buying fake likes and buying fake followers, what’s another…
Nathan: Yeah. We definitely don’t agree to do that.
Gretta: No. Definitely not. That’s…they’re vanity metrics. That’s not gonna help you actually get any conversions, which are ultimately what we’re trying to do through Instagram. And people aren’t necessarily going to follow something just because it’s well engaged. They’re gonna follow content. They’re going to follow things that they find helpful or things that they are curious about. So no, I definitely do not suggest buying fake likes or followers, and this is why as well. Instagram knows when you buy that and will penalize your account with their algorithm. So rather than engagement being the only metric that Instagram measures a successful post of, it’s actually engagement through engaged accounts. So it’s not just engagement in terms of maybe 2,000 like bots just liked your photo. It’s engagement in terms of 200 highly engaged, well-followed accounts just liked your photo.
So what I’ve been doing this week with one of my friends and staff actually, Davey, him and I started a page as an example. So we started…it’s called Girls’ Tutorials and it’s girlstutorial.s because you can’t get the name Girls’ Tutorials. And a lot of tutorial content has been trending on the popular page lately. So we thought it would be a good example. So what we did is not only SFS. We haven’t done any SFS yet actually. We started the page entirely from scratch, a brand new page that we just created, and it had zero followers, and we created a huge like for like network. So rather than a follow for follow or a SFS network, a like for like network. And that was with a lot of other pages that had quite large amounts of reach as well. So because I had my 15 million reach, for example, I was able to leverage that up to huge amounts of reach quickly because I can like from 15 million worth of accounts as well.
So what you do is you post a photo. Well, it’s actually best if you post three or six photos all at once. So you post three photos at once. You like them from all the various accounts within the first 15 minutes of the post, and it will push the post to the popular page or to the explore page. In your own caption of the post you put, “Follow @girlstutorial.s” because so many people will be seeing the page. It’s like shouting yourself out. So you post your content, you shout yourself out on that, and as everybody follows and likes from the popular page, they see the ad and the call to action, which as you know are hugely important in your posts, but your call to action isn’t just double tap or like. It’s actually to follow your own page, which may look a bit silly to your existing followers, but the people on the explore page then follow. We’ve been able to build Girls’ Tutorials up to 36,000 followers in 4 days.
Gretta: It’s huge, huge levels of engagement. Almost 50% engagement on some posts. One post has 15,600 likes on it right now out of 36,000 followers which, Nate, you know, is…
Nathan: Wow. That’s out of this world.
Gretta: Mental. So…
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Gretta: Yeah, that’s our strategy right now. And we’re finding that videos are trending the best. I think that it’s because they’re a newer form of content on Instagram, and photos were existing before and they’re trying to introduce and popularize the use of videos on Instagram, so they’re actually allowing more videos than stills onto the popular page at the moment. And also now videos have their own explore page. So you’re gonna get double the engagement.
Nathan: I see, yeah. Kind of like Facebook for…right now Facebook pages, if you post a video, they get way more engagement.
Gretta: Yeah. So…well, you know, Facebook own Instagram. So they’re probably using a lot of the same content engagement strategies. But yeah, so the like for like would definitely be…until Instagram catches on, maybe they’ll listen to this interview and change their algorithm, but as soon as Instagram catches on that the majority of users or like the majority of the top users, so people with millions and millions of followers, know what they’re doing, they’d change it. So you’ve gotta get on this really quickly.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. That’s really, really cool. Yeah, I was familiar with this strategy but I never talked about it. I never really tested it out that much. Just not the way you described it, but we call them…because I’m probably like a little group and, you know, it’s very…you know, on Instagram there’s all…everyone’s on Kick and everyone knows everyone and like, you know, it’s funny. We even have mutual friends from all different parts of the world that, you know, they’re influencers on Instagram and totally different niches to us. And those guys call them like bombs.
Nathan: But, you know, this is awesome.
Gretta: I think one of the components, one of the key components of these kind of like bombs is shouting yourself out in the caption.
Nathan: Yeah, no. That’s killer. I’m definitely gonna try this. This sounds awesome. Awesome. Well, look… Yeah, no. I’m very keen to try this. So look…
Gretta: The thing is you can’t lose the momentum of the page ever. So there’s a certain momentum and engagement on pages, and that’s why it’s important to post a certain amount of times a day and not let up on that because Instagram will penalize you if your engagement and post rate goes down from what it was. So if you can keep the momentum going and keep the engagement up per follower, you’re going to get much better results as well.
Nathan: Yeah, that is…that’s a really good point you make and that’s something that I’ve noticed. Instagram rewards you from the more you post and the more consistent you are because…
Nathan: I remember we got, you know, we got to 100K followers in 4 months and I was like really focused. I was doing all the work myself. I didn’t even have a VA touching it. I just wanted to learn it myself, master it myself.
Gretta: I know.
Nathan: Yeah. And I got burnt out and then I just hardly posted. Once it hit a 100K I hardly posted, didn’t really…I was still posting every day, but only a couple of times a day and our growth really started to slow down, and then once that started to happen, I noticed that like…you know, let’s just get back on it. I got my VA involved and I hardly even touch the account now. And now we’re growing at like a really, really rapid rate. Like I think 65K to 70K followers, new followers a month. And I’ve noticed that Instagram definitely rewards you when you post at least, you know, 4 to 8, maybe 10 times a day and just super consistent, and we try and hit all time zones, you know, around the clock and, yeah. No, that’s a really good point you make because you can lose momentum because I’ve seen it.
Gretta: Yeah, exactly. I think that consistency and momentum are one of the biggest driving factors behind recurring growth on Instagram, for sure. And I liked that you said that you tried to post across different time zones and everything as well. A really good new app actually that I just downloaded is Prime. Have you heard of that before?
Gretta: Prime for Instagram, and it tells you the best times to post based off your followers. So it analyzes your Instagram following and then tells you the best time to post when they’ll be the most engaged.
Nathan: Yeah, okay, wow. I’ll write this one down. That’s killer.
Gretta: Yeah, no problem.
Nathan: Look, Gretta, I could talk to you all day. I’m super mindful of your time. We’ve got about 15 minutes before we work towards wrapping up, but let’s talk about, you know…you talked about page shout outs and, you know, you actually created a service, a technology company. This is another one of your companies called Nichify. Tell our audience about this. Why it came about? How’s that going and why people should be using Nichify?
Gretta: Definitely. So with my product companies, a lot of the elements, like I said, are quite systemized. So the logistics are quite systemized. We have great manufacturers. I have amazing teams, but one area that was just lacking was the amount of time and energy it takes to do our influencer marketing. So when I say influencer marketing, I mean finding people within our demographic and within the same vertical as our products, and using them as brand ambassadors to help represent our company and our interests, and really just to help tell your brand story. So Nichify was just a kind of organic progression from my product companies and the want to systemize our marketing a little bit more. So I created Nichify, which is a collaboration tool for social influencers and brands, and we launched about six months ago and we’ve grown very quickly. I’ve got almost a billion in social reach now actually. So when I say I have 15 million followers on Instagram, there’s a billion followers on Nichify that you can connect with.
So that’s just a really great tool for brands to be able to get on, use and collaborate with these influencers and talk to them in one place. Like I’m sure, Nate, as you know, when you’re talking to people from social media, you might be talking on Facebook messages, you might be talking on iMessage, you might be on Instagram direct messaging, you might be on WhatsApp, you might be absolutely anywhere. We use Slack, we use all different forms of communication. But this is that one centralized kind of communication tool for people that have a substantial reach on social media. Actually not even…it’s not always substantial, to be honest. We encourage people to get on with as little as maybe 4,000 to 5,000 Instagram followers.
Nathan: I see.
Gretta: So yeah. We were able to create this tool that kind of systemizes the way that I’ve marketed my product companies for other brands.
Nathan: Gotcha. And can you do transactions like to broker deals for if you wanna pay for shout outs for Nichify?
Gretta: Yeah, definitely. We have a deal section. So once you’re entered into a chat with somebody, it works in a similar way to Kick in that you can talk to anybody. You can instantly write chat to anybody and that goes into your new chats, and once you chat back to them, that goes into your active chats. So you don’t need to actually add somebody as a contact. You just write chats, say what you’d like to say. Once you’ve discussed kind of the parameters of what you’d like to do together or build your relationship up a little bit, then you can move on to a deal which is more transactional and it might be in terms of payment, it might be in terms of product in return for posting. But the end goal is brands advertise through Nichify and influence is monetized.
Nathan: I see. And do you take a fee from those transactions?
Gretta: No, we don’t actually. We’re working on some different business models at the moment because I actually don’t think that a transactional fee is going to be the best way to monetize a platform like that. Anybody can just create a lower fee and there might be a mass move of users from your app to their app. At the moment, we’re just working on building up a really great user base, some great engagement rates and we think the market will speak for itself. We’d rather get external investment to monetize our app to begin with while we work on different ways to run the business model.
Nathan: I see. Interesting. And I’m curious, and this is another question I’m dying to ask you and work towards wrapping up. You know, you’ve got like five different companies, six different companies. You’ve got a lot of companies that you’re running mainly from brands and products. I’m sure a lot of people might be overwhelmed by this. Whenever…most of the time when I meet somebody that’s got more than two to three businesses, it’s very rare and unique that all of those businesses are doing quite well. How do you manage your time, how do you manage your focus? Can you give us some insight there?
Gretta: Yeah. Well, ever since I was studying, even in high school, I liked to do a lot of different subjects and kinda keep my mind in different areas all the time. So when I moved from one company to the other, it’s like a similar thing. It’s like going to an English class and then moving into maths. You have to completely switch your brain from one topic to the next, which means that your brain is constantly fresh. You don’t necessarily overuse all of your energy on the one project. Like I’m sure sometimes, you know, working on the one thing all the time, it can be like running around in circles sometimes. And as long as you have a great team to support you, there’s no reason why you can’t do multiple things. I think it does take a certain personality type. Like I know you, Nate, focus on Foundr and pursuing a lot of different ideas within that company. Well, I pursue a lot of different ideas but they’re across companies, but that doesn’t mean that the system is any different. Again it’s all about systemizing and then you can create a lot of different things that you’re working on at the same time without overtaxing yourself.
Nathan: Gotcha. And can you run us through like some, I guess, productivity hacks, any tools, any, you know… What sort of system are you using to manage your day? Because I just…I can’t even begin to imagine how hectic things must be.
Gretta: I like writing things down physically rather than just on a computer, of course.
Nathan: Yeah, great, yeah.
Gretta: But to do with my week, I’m more…split my time…I prioritize a lot. So with Nichify, we use agile tactics, which mean that you’re constantly changing and pivoting the direction that you’re going in throughout the day. So at the start of a day, I might write down my top 10 goals and then I’ll prioritize them. And I actually do that at the start of a week as well. So I say, “Okay. What do I need to work on across the companies?” And therefore I can prioritize my time based on what needs to be done and ignore the things that are kind of a bit more distracting. So I know that Eric Schmidt, for example, from Google just is very cutthroat with what is a task that he wants to work on and what you just need to ignore. So productivity wise, I think it’s really about ignoring irrelevant things or delegating those and just focusing on your top priorities.
Nathan: I see. And do you set goals like for the year or every six months or like financial goals, targets for each company?
Gretta: I set KPIs, for sure, but goals…I know most people in business do set goals in that way, but I personally don’t really believe in setting goals because I think that if you set a goal, you’re limiting yourself.
Nathan: Okay, interesting. And do you have like… No, that’s fair enough. We’re all different, you know. That’s, you know…it’s all about being raw and honest.
Gretta: Just not me.
Nathan: Yeah, no. That’s fair enough. So to manage like, you know, all your different companies, do you have a CFO? Like talk…tell us about your team before we wrap up. Like how many people in each team? You told me you even break up the offices. Like you’re not only in the one office.
Gretta: Yeah. I have three different offices across Melbourne because it’s easier for me to, like I said, to completely change mindsets when I enter one company as opposed to another. If I was in the same office with all my teams at the same time, I’d just be pulled in five different directions all at once and I’d be so overwhelmed because, of course, as founder when you go into the office…for SkinnyMe Tea, for example, I’m just cofounder. At the 5th, then Alex actually does most of the day to day runnings of the 5th. He’s absolutely incredible with the way that he runs our team there, but at SMT, as founder, as soon as you go into the office, it’s kind of…you get bombarded with questions. It’s a bit like, “Mom, look at me, look at me. Look what I’ve done.” And it’s a little bit overwhelming, to be honest. So that’s why I split the offices because if I had like three to five companies in the same office, I would just not be able to function. It’s almost like they’re separate parts of my brain.
Nathan: Yeah, okay, interesting. All right. Well, look, a couple more questions before we wrap. Was there any questions that you wanted me to ask you that I didn’t ask you?
Gretta: No. I don’t think so. I think you’ve been pretty great.
Nathan: Okay, awesome. And yeah, look, for like, you know, for our audience, where’s the best place people can find your brands, your companies? Like yeah, go crazy.
Gretta: If you have a look at my personal Instagram, which is Gretta Rose, G-R-E-T-T-A-R-O-S-E, it has a list of the different Instagrams that fall under my companies. And also LinkedIn is a good place to have a look.
Nathan: Okay. Awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome. Well, look, Gretta, look, thank you so much for your time. You’ve been very generous and super open. This has been a fantastic interview. Absolute pleasure.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Gretta Rose van Riel
- Follow Gretta Rose Van Riel on Instagram
- Visit the SkinnyMeTea website
- Checkout Dropbottle
- Learn more about Hey Inlfuencers