In Conversation with Mari Llewellyn of Bloom Nutrition and SLAY
Describe your business in a few words?
We make health and wellness supplements, workout guides, and exercise equipment that help women ‘bloom’ into their best selves. You’ll find info on my businesses – Bloom Nutrition and my new fitness app SLAY – through my Instagram @marillewellyn, where I create daily content around fitness, mental health, being an entrepreneur, and more. I love sharing my life and businesses with my amazing community.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
Everything stemmed from the experience of turning my own life around a few years ago. I was in college, with friends and a busy social calendar. Everything looked normal. But in reality, it was a rollercoaster. I had unresolved mental health issues, was drinking and partying too much, and had no goals despite graduation being around the corner. Before I knew it, I gained what felt like a ton of weight and was failing all my classes.
Reality hit at this point. I pulled myself out of school and moved home. I had gained over 60 pounds through drinking, emotional eating, and neglecting my wellbeing. I wanted to lose weight, but more importantly, I wanted to feel strong. Suddenly, the decision was made, and I threw myself into fitness.
Finally, I had a passion in life: strength training. I got a job at a fitness studio, finished my degree, and immersed myself in podcasts and books about fitness and nutrition. That year, I lost 70 pounds and gained a ton of strength and muscle. More importantly, my mental health improved dramatically.
The way Mari Fitness began was pretty organic from there. It was November 2017, and I posted a before-and-after photo to my 900 Instagram followers. The photo caught attention around the world and my page took off. Suddenly, I was receiving thousands of messages asking for my secret to success, and I saw an opportunity to follow my passion and spread a message of health, strength, and positivity. Weight lifting improved my life in so many ways, and I wanted to encourage other women to discover their own unique best self.
My now-fiancé Greg and I created our first PDF workout plan called Fit With Mari that year. It was a simple, fun, and effective five-week plan built from what I did to get fit, and still do now.
Since then, I launched my second business, Bloom Nutrition, in 2019, and on New Year’s Day this year we launched my fitness app SLAY! It’s been two years in the making, and a very exciting time for me and my team.
My companies now make up an eight-figure wellness conglomerate, offering health and wellness products for women that support a strong mind and body, inside and out.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I started my first company when I was 23, so the bulk of my knowledge of the business world came from my time in school. I was a design and merchandising major at Drexel University, where I learned about product design and creating a brand, and how to sell that brand or product. I still carry what I learned into my work running our businesses today, whether it’s creating a label or website or thinking about brand cohesiveness.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
If you told me in high school that I was going to be an entrepreneur, I would have laughed. Running a business—or actually two—is not what I thought I would be doing today. It became a goal of mine when I realized that I had found this thing, this passion, that improved every part of my life and that it also had the potential to help others. I enjoy having a life centered around health and wellness, and sharing what I’ve learned with others for my job is an incredible icing on the cake.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
When we first launched Mari Fitness, I had about 10,000 followers. Our initial strategy was to make as much content as possible, while also reaching out to potential customers one by one. We focused on staying personal while offering free content as inbound marketing. This strategy worked as well as it could for this period of time, but burnout began when the number of customers grew.
When launching Bloom Nutrition, we had a large platform to begin with. I had around 600,000 followers who already loved our workout guides and resistance bands. This made our initial launch a huge success and it has been helpful since. However, in order to acquire new customers who weren’t already following me, we have expanded into Facebook, Google, Instagram, and influencer marketing.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
Within the first few months of business, we sold our first item of clothing: a Mari Fitness-branded sweatshirt. We designed every detail of the sweatshirt ourselves, from the sleeve measurements to the width of the neck hole. The sweatshirt sold out within 30 minutes, and we were ready to celebrate and pop champagne, until we realized that we sold 1,000 units of a size that we didn’t even have. This was before we had a sophisticated email system, so we emailed each person individually to ask if they’d like to cancel their order or choose a different size. It was a disaster.
At the time, we were selling workout PDFs and resistance bands successfully, with only one employee supporting us. We took on the sweatshirts as an additional project. Overall, it ended up taking precious time away from the growing parts of our business, and we had no intention of entering the fashion industry. We learned the hard way that doing more isn’t always better.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
The accomplishment I’m most proud of is the amount of women I’ve been fortunate enough to impact in a positive way. My following has grown to over 1.3 million, and our Facebook support group has over 60,000 members. Every day I’m able to see firsthand how much my products and content are changing women’s lives. Whether they discover their strength, lose weight, or just find a healthier balance, being a part of it is incredibly fulfilling and keeps me motivated in my work.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
We ask the potential employee’s favorite social media brand or influencer. Since our brand is a direct-to-consumer social media based, we like to know that our team can recognize a successful brand with great content.
Over the years, we’ve discovered that honesty is the best policy. Working for a startup means wearing a lot of hats and doing the ‘dirty work.’ Rather than glamorizing the position, we’re always very open and clear about the responsibilities of the role. This means that when our team member starts, there’s no surprises or unmet expectations.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The initial impact of COVID-19 meant a hard pivot from gym content and fitness supplements to home workouts and wellness products. At first, we were concerned, but the pivot quickly became a huge success for our brand. In fact, it has changed the trajectory for our business model overall. We’ve found that focusing on health and wellness is more in line with our demographic and opens interest from other customers who might not be so fitness focused.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We actually just launched our first-ever fitness app on January 1! We put a lot of thought and heart into this app—from designing the concept of the app itself to the logo, to each and every button along the way. We are very excited to be bringing our unique take on physical and mental health to fitness fans in a whole new way.
To date, we’ve sold over 250,000 of our Mari Fitness guides, and the app allows us to give our community an even more engaging and easy-to-use platform for using our guides. It features follow-along exercise videos, places to record progress, and tips from me as the coach. It includes both gym and home workouts, so it is the perfect workout buddy during a time when many don’t have access to a gym.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in 2020 is never get too comfortable. This year, we’ve had to think on our feet, pivot, and pivot again. Whether we rush to design branded face masks, or a new immunity supplement, we’ve learned that being ready to act quickly is crucial.
In addition, l learned how to better use my platform for good. When COVID hit, I was living in New York City. Our hospitals were at capacity and essential workers were exhausted. We quickly jumped into action by sending lunches to hospitals in our area and sharing donation sites with my community. It was a humbling experience to see the internet come together when the world needed it most.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
Design your products for your customer – not yourself. When we first started Bloom, Greg and I were very passionate about bodybuilding. We centered our formulations around performance at the gym, weight lifting, recovery, etc. After learning more about our customers, we came to realize that they were beginners to fitness and weren’t necessarily weight lifters. We continue to grow with our customer’s needs and innovations within our industry.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Fitness has been very grounding for me this year. Through all of the uncertainty, my at-home workouts were my constant. I made sure I worked up a sweat every day and took care of my body. This kept my mental health strong and made me feel like I was working toward my goals daily.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
This is a concept that I still struggle with. While I do believe that sometimes you just need to ‘grind it out,’ burnout is super real and something I have experienced many times.
My work overlaps with my personal life frequently because a lot of my job involves capturing content at all hours of the day and sharing personal stories. However, we try to implement some balance by setting boundaries. For example: We start work at 9 a.m. and try to end at 5 p.m. (with some exceptions), we don’t use our phones during dinner time, and we try to take Saturdays off. We’ve also found that separating our work space and our living space is crucial to this concept.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
They would be surprised to learn that I have an emotional disorder: Borderline Personality Disorder. I think many people are shocked to hear that I’m able to manage two companies and a large public Instagram page with a mental illness of this difficulty.
Mental health has been a struggle for me since my teenage years. I’ve worked hard to manage my BPD through therapy, diet, and daily mental work. Mental health was a huge reason I underwent a fitness journey, and ultimately, a motivation for me to start my Instagram page.
Sharing my journey has allowed me to connect with my audience on a level beyond fitness.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
Wake up at a specific time each day. I don’t think that this is for everyone, but Greg and I wake up at 5 a.m. every day to make sure that we get our workouts in before we get started with work.
Eat as healthy as possible. This promotes optimal energy and brain function and is especially important if you struggle with mental health. It’s so important to give yourself the nutrition you need in order to have a focused brain and lasting energy.
Write ‘power lists.’ In the morning, I make a list of the five most important things that I need to get done that day. It keeps me focused and ensures I don’t have an even longer list that I will never achieve.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Entreprenistas NEVER give up! They set goals and execute daily in order to reach them. They motivate and inspire others to find their inner strength and true passion in life.