Courtney Nichols Gould is committed to family, friendship and the world. With this inspiration and an “I’m not kidding around” attitude, Nichols Gould is taking an underserved part of the supplements market by storm. We caught up with the co-founder and co-CEO of SmartyPants Vitamins to learn more about her company and how she found success in the natural products industry.
What was the inspiration for your business? What inspires you daily?
Our own experience of standing in the vitamin aisle and wondering how it got so un-user friendly. My family, employees, customers and the recipients of our matching grants inspire me to be better, try harder, do more.
What has been your road to success and critical success factors along the way?
I was fortunate to be born with an absurd lack of fear of failure and risk, and I don’t tend to care too much about personal wealth, though four years without salary wasn’t fun. I also have loving parents with resources who made my development a priority.
My success is tied to the revelation that what I truly love is not a thing but a process: I am a builder with a profound affection for complex problem solving. In particular, I seem to like big problems with lots of obstacles. It’s not easy, but it’s never boring. I think if you asked my employees, my husband and co-CEO, or my parents what it’s like to work for me, live with me or raise me, the answer would be the same: she’s not kidding around.
Describe a mistake you made with your business. How did you fix it?
Oh, where to begin. We hit a lot of potholes. I am surprised how many times there would be a small error and the typical response from third parties would be: “Oh, it’s not a big deal.” Character is what you do when it’s not easy or cheap, so we made a commitment to hire and partner with integrity as a priority. I have to trust that the decisions we make would look good on the front page of the New York Times (a great lesson from former boss, Steve Brill, founder of Court TV, CLEAR and author of Bitter Pill).
What’s your best piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
You have to enjoy the process. If you want to be an entrepreneur because you are motivated by an outcome, you will use up your precious days on this earth being miserable. Take care of your physical and mental well-being as a priority and only work on something you truly feel the world can’t be without or that you can’t help but do. Outcomes are one in a million; it’s the process that’s universal. For more advice on running a startup, I recommend reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.
Where are you going? What is the vision for your business in two years? Five years? Ten years?
In a high-growth startup this is always a tricky business. There is a lot left to do in providing nutrient choices for people focused on simplicity, quality and taste. We are just getting started! International, SKUs for other demographics and other formats are all on the horizon.
What was the first retail account you landed?
Our first account was Amazon in 2010. We launched online first and at the local Santa Monica Pharmacy (bless you, SMP!), which gave us insight into not only if people would try SmartyPants but if they would buy us repeatedly. We launched in our first three regions of Whole Foods Market at the end of 2012.
How do you position your products in mass, natural and online?
We are the premium brand in gummy with a focus on an all-in-one format. We have a higher price point on shelf as we use more expensive ingredients, but that’s where we see the biggest gap and it's one retailers agree with. We don’t make hundreds of SKUs across lots of formats. We are expert in making delicious, nutrient-dense gummies, and our focus is an asset when it comes to customer credibility.
How do you develop relationships with retailers and educate them about your company’s story?
We are a very story-driven brand, so we invest in brand ambassadors and tools that really tell our story so that our price point makes sense. Our retention track record gives retailers faith to bring the product into their stores.
What most helped market your product in the beginning?
Our reviews on Amazon. As the No. 1 selling product in several vitamin categories on Amazon, we live and die by our reviews. People look at how products are reviewed on Amazon regardless of where they buy so having a broad and honest base of feedback is critical in driving word of mouth when you can’t afford advertising.
What’s a guilty pleasure of yours?
Oh there are quite a few, and I can’t say I have too much guilt. I joke with my husband that I eat sea salt and vinegar kettle chips and fried okra so as to remain human and un-godlike as otherwise I would just be super annoying to be around (he often laughs too hard at this). I also love french fries, chocolate, naps, watching too many baby animal videos, nice hotel rooms, really, really good beer, and...
Please share something that you’d consider to be the inside scoop on yourself.
I am a master prank planner. In fact, I have fallen down on the job so beware SmartyPantsers!