Chris Cage is the founder of Greenbelly Meals. Greenbelly makes ready-to-eat backpacking meals for long distance backpackers and adventure travelers.
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SimilarWeb – Chris’ small business resource
Sapiens and The Glass Castle – Chris’ Top Business Books
Greenbelly Meals – Chris’s website
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3 Value Bombs
1) Try different kinds of content marketing and believe that one of them will work for you.
2) When you have everything in place—the processes, the people, and the systems—momentum is easy to build.
3) You are going to lose many battles—a battle lost is not a war lost. Keep fighting.
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(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
[00:51] – Chris is a big backpacker and an expert in long distance travel
[02:18] – On the business side, his expertise is in content marketing
[02:53] – One BIG and Unique Value Bomb: Content marketing brings in a lot of traffic and it costs NO money
[03:56] – The Low Hanging Fruit Strategy
[05:08] – Chris and his team attack high volume keywords with low competition
[06:02] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: When Chris started Greenbelly, he was low on money. He had to live at home with his parents and make all Greenbelly meals by hand with his mom in their kitchen. He had a Shopify store, a lot of orders to fill, and no systems in place. In his push to fulfill, he screwed up every single one.
[09:38] – As long as there are orders coming in you need to keep moving forward
- Always hustle and never let yourself be defeated
[10:33] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: Chris wrote a book last winter on how to do the Appalachian Trail.
[12:15] – “Keep forging ahead”
[12:50] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “We’re going to be doing a new flavor”
[16:01] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “It was probably exposure”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Move fast and break things”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “Time management”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – SimilarWeb
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Sapiens and The Glass Castle
[19:46] – Don’t be short-sighted
[19:58] – Connect with Chris via email
JLD: Chris, are you prepared to ignite?
CC: Yeah, buddy, let’s do it.
JLD: Chris is the founder of Greenbelly Meals. Greenbelly makes ready-to-eat backpacking meals for long-distance backpackers and adventurer travelers. Chris, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give a little glimpse of your personal life.
CC: I’m a big backpacker. I started the business after hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’ve been doing it for a little over two years now and most of the time I’m on the road. I’ve lived in Asia, South America, and I’m currently in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I like to run and I love punk rock music.
JLD: I love the story that you were walking down the street the other day and somebody was wearing and Entrepreneur On Fire shirt and you’re like, ‘Hey, I’m about to be on that show. Hello!’
CC: I know that guy!
JLD: That’s so cool. So, one thing I’m a little disappointed about is that I didn’t read your application a little more closely because usually when there’s a business as cool as yours that involves food, I’m like, ‘You know, Chris, you’re right on the border of being accepted. So, why don’t you just send me some of these backpacking meals so I can taste them, and then I’ll make my decision. How’s that sound?’ But you know what? I guess your video must have just wooed me so quickly or whoever introduced us must have just been that big of a deal that I didn’t take it to that level. But next time, buddy, it’s gonna happen.
CC: I appreciate you placing faith in me. I’ll send you some after the show.
JLD: Yes! Yes, I love it. I’m gonna hold you to that. So, Chris, let’s kind of figure this out now. You have a lot of areas of expertise. What would you say is your most biggest, grandest area of expertise?
CC: First, it’d probably be backpacking, long-distance backpacking, but I don’t think your listeners are probably wanting to hear that. So, I think on the business side of things, I would say content marketing. We do a lot of content marketing and that’s something I definitely – I started off extremely green and I’ve kind of come into a decent, dare I say expert at content marketing. It’s seen a lot of big gains with content marketing.
JLD: Absolutely, and one thing that I really want to do now is have you give us some kind of tip, tool, or tactic within content marketing that you found that you guys use to really great success but a lot of entrepreneurs just don’t seem to know about? What’s that unique tip, tool, or tactic?
CC: First, let me kinda sell content marketing a little bit because I think starting off as an entrepreneur, you hear all this stuff about different marketing channels to pursue and it’s just a lot of noise out there. You kind of gotta throw a lot of darts to figure out which one works for you. Content marketing has been great for a variety of reasons, but the main thing it does is it just brings in traffic. It’s the top of the funnel, brings in a lot of traffic. It gives us email subscribers so we convert a percentage of all visitors. It’s evergreen, it costs no money. So, other than just some time to write the actual content, it lasts forever and it brings new traffic. It’s just been great.
On top of the email subscribers, we get direct conversions to Greenbelly, our actual backpacking meals themselves, from the content. So, it’s just great and people are starting to trust us as a brand. We’re asserting ourselves as a domain expert. So, this is the kind of things I would push about content marketing, but a specific tip on content marketing, I’ve started to call this the low-hanging fruit strategy. When we first started doing content marketing, and I see a lot of businesses do this, it’s kind of this strategy of when you think about what type of posts and content to create, it seems to kind of revolve around, and we did this too, is kind of guessing what your audience wants to hear or read.
You’re kind of relying on them to spread the word once you put out the post. I think as time went on, we started seeing, 1.) Facebook’s algorithm has just plummeted your organic reach. The social platform is just not as valuable and profitable as it used to be. I started switching more towards an SEO-focused content strategy which was really only creating posts for keywords and SEO-optimized pages which has been huge at switching that content strategy from just kind of guessing what I think our audience would be interested in to actually seeing some hard keywords behind those posts.
So, if you kind of switch to the SEO route, specifically, one thing that we’ve done is attacking high-volume keywords with low competition. So, that’s kind of the low-hanging fruit. There’s no point in going after keywords that are extremely competitive. You’re going up against, in our case, the big boys in the industry, whether that’s REI.com, you might be competing against Amazon. You’re not going to win those keywords. So, there are keywords out there that you can tell from different tools which ones are lower competition. So, that would be my one big tip, is go for keywords with your content strategy and with those keywords get higher volume and relatively low competition.
JLD: Kind of going back to one of his original points, try a few content marketing strategies out. See which medium resonates with you and then dive in and have some fun. Now, Chris, let’s talk about what you consider your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. What is that story? Take us to that moment.
CC: It’s kind of embarrassing. It literally resulted in, I don’t know if I’d call them tears, but definitely borderline tears. So, when I started Greenbelly, I’d finished hiking the Appalachian Trail, I’d finished travelling around for a couple of years, and I was low on money. I had a little bit of money saved up from my accounting job prior to quitting and traveling and I had to live at home with my parents. So, I was living at home with my parents, making all of the Greenbelly meals by hand with my mom in her kitchen. That in itself was kind of morally defeating, living at home with my mom as I started this business.
JLD: I think it’s sweet, but go ahead.
CC: So, one specific thing, we had the Greenbelly recipe and the formula getting down just when we were starting and I felt good about this recipe that we had, that it tasted good, it had the nutritional label where we wanted it to be, it was kind of the ideal product. We had a basic Shopify site up and Bicycling Magazine put a review up on their homepage of Greenbelly and that was just like huge for us. It was like oh man, this is so exciting. I had a lot of orders to fill and I didn’t have a strong system in place at the time other than my mom and I cooking and making these orders.
As we’re making these orders, I need to source more ingredients and I realize that one of the ingredient suppliers had switched their formula to a PG, which without getting too technical, it’s propylene glycol, which is basically toxic. So, at that time, I was like oh crap, I need to find a different extract supplier for our meals. So, that’s like if you’re switching up your flavor extract, that’s gonna change the whole taste of the product. So, here I am trying to figure out how to get a new ingredient supplier while at the same time fulfill all these Bicycling Magazine orders.
So, I ended up sourcing some new extracts, getting it in, my mom and I stayed up all night making these meals to realize the extract ratios were wrong. So, we were essentially having to do product development all over with this new extract. It was just so defeating to stay up all night trying to fulfill this order to realize that the product you just made tasted like crap. So, it was unbelievably stressful. At that point, I really considered this new product that I’d spent months lining up, here we have this order coming in from this new PR outlet and it was so exciting, and then we just screwed it up big time.
Now we have all this product, hundreds of dollars wasted right there just overnight, not to mention hours of labor. I just felt like a total failure. I really was just like this is not gonna work. I had to redo the whole nights’ work and labor of actually making those meals over again. Yeah, I really had to go upstairs in my room and just sit down for a minute and just say, ‘You know what? Get back to it, man. It’s not that bad.’ But that truly was probably my lowest point when I really just kind of said to myself I just don’t know if I’m gonna be able to take on this entrepreneurial journey.
JLD: Now, what was the thing that turned it around for you? When you were at that lowest of low moment, what was that glimmer of hope? What was that first thing that you were like okay, I can do this?
CC: That’s a good question. I think it was just a little bit of nit and grit. Hey, at the end of the day, this is a nice problem to have. The fact that there are orders coming in, I think a lot of businesses are on the opposite end of that spectrum. The biggest problem is not having orders and here we were with orders. So, it’s kinda like stop crying, man. Get back in the kitchen and make some bars.
JLD: So, what do you want to make sure our listeners get from this story? What’s the one takeaway?
CC: Hustle and don’t let yourself get too defeated. You’re gonna have plenty of failures. I had so many failures beyond that moment, but I think just kind of acknowledging your wins and counting you wins and not giving up, keep going at it. If you’re seeing progress, keep going ahead. You’re gonna have failures.
JLD: Chris, let’s talk about an a-ha moment. Let’s talk about one of the greatest ideas that you’ve had to date. I mean, obviously, to start this company was one, we talked about some content marketing ideas, but what’s a great story around one of these a-ha moments that you can tell us right now?
CC: I think a big a-ha moment, at least in the sense of feeling like wow, this is really gonna do something – I think before that, it was like okay, I’ve got this business, I’m travelling around, kind of doing the digital nomad thing. I like backpacking, I’ve got a backpacking product that’s paying the bills, this is fun. But the real a-ha moment that I had something that could really turn into something big was I actually wrote a book in this past winter, around December timeframe, about the Appalachian Trail and it was called How to Hike the Appalachian Trail. It’s like a guidebook to everything from planning to you need to execute this big six-month hike.
Prior to that book, the only thing that I had been doing was selling Greenbelly. So, I had an email list, I had traffic to the website, it built up this slow-growing business, and here I was with this new idea to launch a book. In the book, with some of my prior knowledge from launching Greenbelly, the book was just so much faster, easier, profitable getting out the door. It was kind of like, man, this is interesting. I have a foundation here. I’ve kind of validated that I have a real backpacking audience. My ideas are sound. I’m executing them well. It was kind of like round two of launching a product and I really kind of became confident in my ability to forge ahead if that makes sense.
JLD: It makes a lot of sense in a lot of different reasons. Just like we did with the worst entrepreneurial moments, what’s the one take-away? What’s the one thing you want to make sure our listeners get from that story?
CC: It kinda ties back with the other one, keep foraging ahead. As soon as you start sensing some momentum, things are gonna become a lot easier. Greenbelly’s foundation had been there and so that momentum was so much easier. As long as you push that ball, after a while, it’s gonna start rolling on its own.
JLD: So, one thing I want to move into now, Chris, is the one thing that has you most fired up today. So, you have a lot of things that are going right. Of course, you still have the struggles as we all do, but what just kinda gets you up in the morning, excited to continue rocking it?
CC: We’re gonna be doing a new flavor, totally excited about the future of business. When you start getting something growing and it feels so good to have success, you want to keep feeding that success. It’s like spawning off on new, different projects, we’re gonna do a new flavor. I’m really excited about that.
CC: Yeah, buddy. Talking with investors, it’s just a lot of stuff we’re doing. I’m excited about generating more traffic with content and I’m gonna be doing a little bit more side hustles. I’m probably gonna be partnering with some people and launching new products soon.
JLD: All exciting stuff and remember when it comes to new flavors; you’ve got a guinea pig down in Puerto Rico ready to chomp them up. So, Fire Nation, we’re gonna be dropping some more value bombs in the lightning round so don’t you go anywhere. After we thank our sponsors, we’ll be right back. Chris, are you ready to rock the lightning round?
CC: Let’s do it.
JLD: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
CC: Initially, it was probably exposure. The idea of actually starting a business hadn’t really crossed my mind. I graduated college and everybody was talking about job security and it was kind of what majors had the highest probability to securing a job. At that time, I saw business majors at my school and they weren’t getting a job. I saw accounting majors at my school and they were getting a job. So, that was just my train of thought. It was like okay, let’s get a job first. Once I got a job and started making some money, then it was kinda like okay, what’s the next step? Is this where I want to be? Is this what I see myself doing?
At that time, it wasn’t even entrepreneurship. I really wanted to go play. I had had a long history of hiking on the weekends and Boy Scouts and that kind of stuff. The Appalachian Trail really appealed to me. So, at that time, the next step was really quitting my job as opposed to taking the plunge into starting a business. Quitting my job and travelling for a while was kind of a nice segue to getting out of that regiment of job security. After travelling for a while, it was like okay, do I want to go back to job security land or do I want to continue on this adventure path if you will? In this sense, adventure kind of manifested itself into starting a business.
I think it kinda made the plunge into entrepreneurship a lot easier and a much smaller step having already quit my job. I think after travelling for a while, that’s when it started popping into my head, trying to do something more on my own, a little bit more independent, as opposed to still staying on that secure job path.
JLD: Yeah, and Chris, let’s get back into the theme. This is lightning round. Lightning, brother. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
CC: Pop, pop, pop. Move fast and break things. A little cliché, but yeah, it served as a framework for me. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas.
JLD: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
CC: Time management. I’m super-protective of my time and I’m super-structured with my schedule. I read a post of Derek Sivers and if it’s not a ‘hell yes’ I’m out.
JLD: Boom, out. Out! Share an internet resource like Evernote with Fire Nation.
CC: SimilarWeb. It’s a tool you can use. If you’re on any website, you can check the traffic of that website. I use that literally on almost every website I go to.
JLD: If you could recommend one book, what would it be and why?
CC: I’m in a book club right now and we read Sapiens. I bet you’ve had a few people recommend Sapiens. That book is awesome.
JLD: The audio version is something I just keep listening to. On long flights, it’s so good.
CC: It is great. But I was gonna say, I just finished The Glass Castle last night and they’re making a movie out of that soon with Woody Harrelson, so I’m gonna recommend The Glass Castle.
JLD: What’s that about?
CC: Basically, a dysfunctional kind of alcoholic parents and they travel around the states and end up in West Virginia, coal town. It’s just a lot of trials and tribulations in that book.
JLD: But it’s a very entertaining read, obviously?
CC: Definitely. You’re always wanting to read the next page of what next, kind of dysfunctional story she’s gonna share.
JLD: The Glass Castle and Woody Harrelson is gonna be a character in the movie. Cool. Well, Chris, let’s end today on fire with you giving us a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say bye-bye.
CC: Greenbelly was not an overnight success. As I discussed, I had some really low points for extended periods of time. Don’t be shortsighted. If you’re seeing things gain traction and you feel like you have something, stick to it and don’t quit just when things get tough. To keep in touch with my, my email is Chris@GreenbellyBar.com. Feel free to shoot me a note. Otherwise, our website is greenbelly.co.
JLD: Fire Nation, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You’ve been hanging out with CC and JLD today. So, keep up the heat and head over to EOFire.com. Just type ‘Chris’ or ‘Christopher’ in the search bar, his show notes page is gonna pop right up with everything we talked about today. These are the best show notes in the biz, time stamps, links galore. Of course, you can head directly over to Greenbelly.co. That was right, Chris, correct?
JLD: All the other things we talked about, again, is gonna be up on that show notes page. Chris, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today, for that, we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
CC: Awesome! Thanks, John.
JLD: Hey, Fire Nation. I hope you enjoyed our chat with Chris today. Are you ready accomplish your No. 1 goal in just 100 days? Well, The Freedom Journal is your guide, step-by-step guide. Visit TheFreedomJournal.com, use promo code ‘PODCAST’ for a nice little discount as a thank you for listening to this podcast, and I will catch you there or I will catch you on the flipside.
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