I never get to meet people in person. Occasionally, I’ll work with a brand or a person who I almost have to meet with, especially if we’re talking over a bigger deal. But for the most part, everything happens behind a screen. So when I was at the gym in Boston a few weeks ago, I picked up a cute item my gym sold and decided to email the founders to see if I could snag a few bottles to review. Instantly, one of the founders, Cam, emailed me back, and asked to meet a few days later with his business partner to tell me about his company!
Immediately after leaving our meeting, I knew that these power players were about to take over the fitness field. They’re the opposite of GNC, and even fresher and cooler than a Whole Foods. And, they only sell a few products too- and ones that seriously help athletes recover. Welcome, Cam!
A: What prompted you to you start your nutrition supplement company, Vital Fit?
C: We originally pitched VitalFit as the concept for our final thesis project. It’s funny, we were studying for a master’s degree in entrepreneurship, but somehow neither of us had any idea we’d be leaving with our own company. At the time, we wanted to build a network of mobile pop-up shops on college campuses and hire pre-med/nutrition students to customize safe supplement packages for students starting out at the gym. We thought back to a big problem we had freshman—going to places like GNC or The Vitamin Shop and listening to commissioned sales clerks (who didn’t know any better than we did), about what we should take. We’d work all day on the deliverables for class and then stay up all night brainstorming ways to make it even better. Between my passion for fitness and Alfred’s passions for creating meaningful business we knew we had a chance to do something great. A few weeks before graduation we looked at each other and said let’s run with it. A few months and a ton of on the ground research after that, our business evolved into what it is today—simple, clean, plant-based supplements for today’s studio workouts.
A: How does your product work?
C: Tart cherries have a super potent anti-inflammatory profile that’s easier for our bodies to process than something like turmeric and has way fewer side effects than something like ibuprofen—well actually no side effects. Within a few hours, phytonutrients reduce inflammation, attack free radicals, and block pain inducing enzymes (much like an ibuprofen does), helping your body recover naturally. Instead of using the whole cherry, we use just the skins, which is the most nutrient dense part. This means each capsule delivers a lot more antioxidants and a much greater anti-inflammatory effect per serving than other products on the market. The result is quick, all-natural recovery—perfect for any workout that incorporates high-intensity intervals, slow-controlled movements, and anything in between.
A: What’s your most popular product?
C: Right now, our tart cherry extract is our only product. We’re getting ready to release our second, a plant protein made from organic, cold-pressed pumpkin seeds, but we think it’s important to take our time deciding on what products we we’re going to make and of course how to best make them. Part of what takes so long is our design process, which is also what we think makes us unique—it’s one big collaboration. We hated the idea of making a product and pushing it with flashy marketing and flashier influencers. When it came to creating our own product line, the idea of collaborating with fitness instructors, and enthusiasts was a no brainer. We thought, let’s invite the people who are going to use our products into the design process. That way we’ll be able to create products that people not only want but are comfortable using.
A: What’s the one thing you wish people knew about health supplements?
C: There’s ton of companies out there who sell generic ingredients that anyone can slap a label on and resell from there. More people are selling the same thing with a different label than you think and it’s important not to get sucked in by big claims and social media influencers on the pay roll. There are too many flat tummy teas and too many promo codes to sell them—chances are the one you see today is the one you saw yesterday with a different label and person promoting it hasn’t tried it. With that said, there are great brands, selling great products, and finding people who really believe in the product to help spread the word. It’s important to spend a little extra time learning about products and the people behind them to find these brands—they have great things to offer. We think by doing this, we can make the health and wellness space more transparent than ever, from the ground up.
A: How can we eliminate dangerous social media trends such as “thinspo?”
C: We wish there was a straightforward answer to give—there’s certainly no easy fix. Hashtags like #thinspo can be misconstrued as a source of motivation, referencing a dream body or lifestyle. The trouble with this type of thinking is that most of these images are altered, and only very selective standards of beauty are praised. Everyone is starting from a different place, and health looks different on everyone. While we’re all about motivation and promoting a healthy lifestyle, we don’t subscribe to the notion that there is one version of beauty, fitness, or health. When assessing a trend like this, it’s important to ask deeper questions and try to understand why these ideas become popular and work to promulgate messages of inclusion and holistic health.
A: What is your favorite part of your job? What has been the biggest challenge you have had to overcome thus far?
C: One of the biggest challenges has become one of our favorite parts of the job. In the beginning, our biggest challenge was earning the trust of the people we wanted to work with—everyone had their guard up. We were just starting out, two kids’ fresh out of grad school with a lot of ideas and no track record to back them up. We understood why, we’d be skeptical too if we were business owners and two guys they’d never seen before said: “Hi, we’re starting a supplement company, want to do business with us?” That realization forced to us to leave our comfort zone, start meeting people, and begin building relationships throughout Boston’s health, wellness, and fitness scene—from the ground up. In just a few months we could see people, who were initially skeptical, let their guards down. It was incredibly rewarding to earn their trust and eventually the chance to earn their business. To this day, we love waking up, getting out, and seeing whose expectations we can reset.
A: How have social media and online advertising impacted your brand visibility?
C: When we started VitalFit, we said we were never wanted to fall into the mold of traditional social media marketing tactics—over-the-top advertisements and hired influencers. A big challenge has been learning to balance things that we know “work” while maintaining the authentic brand story we’re trying to tell. For the most part, we’ve kept our growth and brand awareness as organic as possible. We spend a lot of time meeting Boston’s fitness community in person and hosting events where we try to bring the community together to discuss things going on in the industry. Our approach on the ground has really helped us stay true to our social media values. By inviting instructors, who are local influencers, into our design process, we’ve in a lot of ways made them a part of our brand. The product we end up with is just as much theirs as it is ours. Now, instead of trying to convince or pay them to promote our product, they do it because they genuinely support us and believe in it. We could probably grow our visibility faster using traditional tactics, but we’re much happier sticking to our roots and growing our visibility sustainably and genuinely.
A: If you could give one piece of advice to young, aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
C: If someone tells you no, keep going back until they say yes!