Curb Your Enthusiasm: One Entrepreneur's Take on the Value of Pessimism

Male models with beards posing for Fresh Heritage.

When Gamal Codner left corporate America he began to grow out his beard. What started as a symbolic lifestyle change to signify the start of his entrepreneurial journey sparked a new online business idea. As his beard got longer, Gamal noticed how there were no grooming products designed for men of color and launched Fresh Heritage to address this unmet need in the market. 

In this episode of Shopify Masters, we will hear from Gamal Codner on how he tested his business idea, scaled with digital ads, and why mentorship is important.

The way to get someone to try your product once is to try to stand out in being different, not trying to sell yourself as being best. 

Key lessons shared by Gamal Codner of Fresh Heritage: 

  • Test out your ideas by highlighting the negatives. Coined by Gamal as the “Ugly Baby Test”, try getting feedback for your business ideas by showing your concerns and toning down your enthusiasm, which makes it easier for others to give critical feedback. 
  • When seeking mentorship, think of ways you can help out your mentor. For those starting a new business, it might be hard to pay for mentorship programs but there are plenty of established business owners willing to mentor. Think of ways you can help out mentors and highlight your skills when contacting them. For Gamal, he was impressed by an attendee at a conference who turned his talk into a produced video and now they have a mentorship established.
  • State how you’re different not just how you’re the best. The marketing world becomes oversaturated with companies claiming how they are offering the best products by using the best ingredients and processes. Instead, showcase how your products are different and why it stands out amongst the current offering.
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Show Notes


    Felix: Today I'm joined by Gamal Codner from Fresh Heritage. Fresh Heritage sells high-quality grooming products for men of color who care about how they look and feel and was started in 2017 and based out of Atlanta, Georgia and is a multi six-figure brand. Welcome, Gamal.

    Gamal: Hey man. What's going on?

    Felix: What's going on man? So yeah, this whole idea behind your business all started with you buying women products. Tell us that story.

    Gamal: Yeah. It's kind of embarrassing. But I started growing my beard right after I left corporate America. Just as a way to hone that new entrepreneurship identity and to rebel a bit because I used to always have a clean-shaven face. But I couldn't find anything specifically for my coarse and curly hair texture. And so a lot of the products on the market had a high alcohol base, which was horrible for my hair, just made my beard really itchy and scratchy. And so the best solution I found was high-quality natural haircare products for black women or natural women.

    Gamal: And so I was doing that for a while and one day I was on an aisle in Target picking up some really cool pink bottles of haircare products and I ran into a gym buddy. And in that moment on the aisle, I felt almost guilty, like I was buying tampons for a girlfriend or something like I had to explain myself. And I realized that I shouldn't feel like that. And the second ah-ha moment in the same aisle is that I realized he was there buying female products to groom himself too and he was also a person of color. So the idea for this brand kind of started there.

    Felix: So you set out to be an entrepreneur before knowing exactly what product or business you would be in at that time, or did you already have some kind of business that you had started previously?

    Gamal: Yeah, great question. I was already in business for a while. I left corporate America in 2013. I learned the skill of Facebook advertising and prior to that, I was trying stuff part-time, which I recommend everyone do. Don't fully jump into it until your side gig is kind of consistent. And I hired a mentor that taught me Facebook ads and in the first 90 days I made $107,000 from working with them. And shortly after that, I left corporate America and I was essentially an outsourced digital advertiser for other brands. So I was helping brands scale through my knowledge of Facebook ads and advertising. But I got tired of making other people money and wanted to create something for my own, but I just didn't have a really good idea to launch with. And so I had that ah-ha moment that I'm like huh, I know how to market, maybe this is a product that I can sell to people because I have a need. So now let me do the research to see if other people have this need too.

    Felix: So you went to the process of hiring a mentor to learn Facebook ads at that time. What made you decide to do that? Because I think a lot of people when they want to learn a new skill, want to become an entrepreneur, want to learn something like Facebook ads, they look for all these kind of free resources, free resources, but you went ahead and paid for a mentor. What was the thought process behind that?

    Gamal: Yeah. And I'll give you both perspectives because now I actually also coach people on how to learn ads for their ecommerce brands, so I have an actual perspective on it. And what I realized at the time was I was trying to do business before my mentor and in two years that business probably generated $8,000, not a whole lot of money. In my first 90 days, I had a great growth path. And I realized that the free information out there is piecemeal. Take for example if you go on YouTube and you watch guy A's tactics on doing something, but he doesn't give you the whole thing and you've got to go to person B's other tactic to try to fill the gap. That's going to give you a really bad recipe. Like if you have ever tried grilling meat and one person says grill it for a short amount of time on a high temperature, the other person says grill it on a low temperature for a long amount of time, you can't mix the two things. You're going to come out with a crappy product.

    Gamal: And so that's what I was doing. I was piecemealing information, getting bits and pieces from everyone and when I put it together I just wasn't getting the traction I needed so I decided to invest in myself and find someone who could give me the full secret, the full process. And that really made a big difference in what I was able to produce. So I'm a big believer in just paying to get mentorship or just learning as much as possible.

    Felix: Yeah, I think there's something to be said about paying someone to create the curriculum for you. And there's a lot of free content. You can probably learn pretty much everything out there that is for free, but the hard part is piecing together the right things like you were saying. What was your approach to finding a mentor? How does someone out there know that they are choosing someone that is actually going to be a good fit, that is truly knowledgeable versus someone that is just a "guru" that is selling information that is not exactly relevant or helpful?

    Gamal: I know man. This guru craze is just ridiculous. And so there's a lot of wrong information out there. So I would recommend anyone to just take their time with people and not rush into any decisions like that. Get to know the person outside of just a flashy Lamborghini or fancy suit. And really just get to know and think through the person's character. And also one big thing for me when I make decisions on who I invest with now to help me, is they have to be a practitioner. I don't want someone teaching me theory. I want someone who's actually lived and done it and has been in the trenches and is sharing their process. Because I'm buying help, not really to learn some secret thing, but just to speed up my learning curve. Time and energy is pretty much the only thing we all have consistently. And so I know if I'm going to have to compete with other brands or get ahead, I need to be maximizing my time. And so what'll take me a year to figure out on my own, I can find someone who's figured it out, and working with them would probably allow me to do it in a matter of weeks or at least a few months.

    Gamal: And so, that's what I look at. At that time I found someone who was like me and who has accomplished what I'd like to accomplish and who was very similar. And I knew that he had learned all this stuff over the past years and I could speed up my learning curve. And that's the same advice I give for people now.

    Felix: Makes sense. Okay so you went through this process of hiring a mentor, you sped up the learning process for Facebook ads. You learned Facebook ads. You were working with ... It sounds like you were running kind of your own agency at the time, helping other people scale up their business. Were you on a lookout at that point to start your own business by the time you had this kind of intuition that birthed Fresh Heritage? What made you decide to switch from offering services to building your own products?

    Gamal: Yeah. I was doing work on a performance base, so essentially I wouldn't get a paid a flat upfront retainer initially. I was just almost getting affiliate sales. For every product I sell, I would get X. And it was great, but I'd have to start over every single month. I wasn't building a brand. No one knew who I was. I was just like a nerd behind the computer screen. And so, when months were slow, all of the work that I've done before that didn't matter. And so I didn't like feeling like that. And so I was essentially almost doing drop shipping in that early part that and then I did agency stuff to have retainer work, but I still just didn't feel like I was really building my own thing. I always felt like I was building something for someone else. And so this building my own brand provided me the opportunity to create a dream from scratch and to grow it into something that just came from my brain. And that was really attractive to me versus just helping someone else build their dream.

    Felix: Okay so what were the most immediate new skills that you had to acquire to begin building your own brand?

    Gamal: Yeah, so I'm a big nerd in behavioral economics and human psychology. Pretty much figuring out why people do things, what triggers people. And what I learned was night and day to what I thought I knew and it's probably night and day to what most people think they know. That's one of the core things I teach when I start working with a new founder. So that was one thing. And I was fairly knowledgeable at marketing, but I needed to really understand the operation side of the product development side. I knew nothing about that. And I thought it was a lot easier than it was until I actually started bringing this thing to life. So I worked with the team over at Foundr Magazine. They've got a program that I bought into that really helped me understand other elements of marketing and really understand the operations part of it. And I really just did the same thing this time. I reached out to brands who were local and just started getting advice from them and help from them on product development, how to scale organizationally, selecting vendors, supply chain, cash flow. All that stuff was brand new to me that I had to figure out.

    Felix: Yeah, I like that you take this approach of wanting to learn something and then you go find practitioners and learn it directly from them. So this approach of finding local brands and getting advice from them, I think to a lot of people that seem kind of daunting where like, why would a brand listen to someone that has nothing right now? So what was your approach? How were you able to get them to talk to you and give you advice?

    Gamal: Yeah. You'll be surprised. There are two ways. Some just had set coaching programs or courses that I can just purchase and buy their mentorship that way. That was really easy. But some of the ones that didn't have a financial transaction behind it, you'd be really surprised at who these "successful" people, who they are and what they value. Oftentimes with everything you should always think about reciprocity. One of those behavioral economics principles. And just you get what you give. And so you should lead with give.

    Gamal: And so you'll be surprised at like these "successful" people, at how valuable you can be to them by simply just give them their time or offering help in an area that you're an expert at that they weren't. So in my case, I had a pretty deep background in digital marketing. And I know that's an area that a lot of people don't really understand. So for people with a heavy product development background, I was able to immediately add value to them and give them some social media or Facebook ad strategies that they could implement in their business. And so, we just started a reciprocal relationship that way. But it doesn't even have to be a hard skill like that, it could just be time doing research. Just showing up helping at trade shows. It can be a lot of different things where you could be valuable to an established business owner.

    Felix: So what's the first interaction like to get them? Because I'm sure that people reach out to them all the time to get kind of advice. What was that first interaction like with a brand or a mentor that you wanted to connect with to make sure that you stand out and you lead with value first?

    Gamal: Yeah. You know it's intentional and it changes from brand to brand or from situation to situation. But I oftentimes was just a founder. At the start of the year I make a list of dream people that if these people were in my sphere of influence or I built a relationship with them, I think they could bring either me or my brand to the next level and I become intentional about connecting with them. So maybe I see that they're speaking at a conference, I'll show up there and do something meaningful for them.

    Gamal: Someone did that to me, which just blew me away. This video creator. I went and I spoke somewhere and I was speaking about scaling with ads and he was an up and coming video creator. And he just filmed me without me asking. And by the end of my talk and me answering questions, he had edited the video really quickly on his laptop and airdropped me the file and said, "Hey, I love your work. I follow you on Instagram. I'd love to do more work with you. Here's something that I could add to what you're already doing." I was like, oh hell yeah. This is initiative, this is a value add, and I saw that he was really strategic and a hustler about it. So that was one example where someone did the reciprocity to me and it worked out really well. I ended up starting a relationship with him and including him in a lot of the projects I did moving forward.

    Felix: Yeah. I like how this example you gave, the person actually went and did the work first. I think the kind of trap that a lot of people get themselves into is that they'll reach out to someone that's in their dream influencer list and then ask them, hey how can I help you? But by asking, you're kind of adding more work onto the plate of the person that you want to help rather than the approach that worked for you, which was that they just went out and did the work and then presented it to you so that it was as easy as you saying yes, I want to continue working with you or not. It does not require you to brainstorm how they can help you. So I think that that's a great example.

    Felix: So you mentioned that you had lots of years of experience in digital marketing. I think you mentioned you had seven years at the time. Or seven years of experience now. And by the time you were ready to launch your brand, you brought all that experience with you. So tell us about that. What were the first steps? Was it first to develop the product? To figure out how you would market this? Like what were the first steps towards actually building Fresh Heritage?

    Gamal: Yeah, great question. So I adopt a principle from the startup technology world that works really well. And so part of the biggest mistakes I see e-com brand owners making is that they sell too soon. And I'll explain what that means. I see people create business plans about the perfect product, who they're going to sell it to. And they never speak to a customer or even worse, they tell their friends and family about it and obviously their friends and family are going to support them in their initiative. And they launch and it's an unvalidated product. That's a complete waste of time. And so what I did, is I did the opposite. The first part of you launching your business is to actually try to get people to shoot down the idea. You actually operate in the negative. What you want is to have an idea in your head, and to speak to people and let them think that you think your idea is a crappy idea. So for example, if I wanted to create grooming products for black men, I started off by researching and speaking with black men who were my ideal customers. So speaking to friends and family, wrong people to speak to because they don't know your customer's needs and if they're an average nice person, they're not going to be real with you and tell you that's a crappy idea. Nor do they know if that's a crappy idea.

    Gamal: And so never speak to friends and family about your idea. Only speak to your customers for validation. So I spoke to the customers and I said, "Hey, I'm thinking about creating this product for black men with beards. I originally thought there was no products on the market for us, but then I realized that black men don't need this thing, and men of color are perfectly fine with everything on the market, so I'm actually going to stop this idea." And then just shut up. And what I wanted to listen for was indifference, meaning people just didn't have a feeling towards it or people felt very strongly towards it and they were like, "No. Actually, don't stop because I'm trying to find products and I can't find anything. What have you done so far? How can I help you make that a reality because I'm struggling with that?" And you want to create an opportunity for people to go against what you want them to think that you're working on. And when you have that kind of resistance and people are in support of your secret idea, then you know you have something. So that's the validation.

    Gamal: And the second piece is, the real way to validate a product is to get people to spend money and give you money. Especially for a product that doesn't exist yet. So a lot of people use a crowd-funded method to raise capital, but I just really use it as a way to really validate my idea. And so I said okay. I interviewed in person about 30 people. I had sent out surveys to about 300, 400 people. Got their feedback. Saw at a high level what all the problems were. Created a product that addressed all the issues people had. And I said, "All right, for 300, 400 people, I heard you, I want to do something, but I need your help. If you're really serious about me doing all of this work for you to make your life a better place, I need you to support me in advance so I could confirm these commitments." And I got a lot of pre-orders. So that was what I did. And so I think that you should never create before you sell and you should never sell before you validate. And so validate, then sell, then create the product.

    Felix: Got it. Okay, so it starts with this validation phase where you're talking to your ideal customers. You said you did 30 in-person interview and about 300 to 400 surveys. How are you finding these ideal customers? Like what were you doing to connect with them?

    Gamal: Yeah. So it's about assumptions, right? So it's all right, I have this problem. First of all, the best e-com brands solve real problems. And so, you need to be real honest with yourself and say, no one needs a real cool widget, people need problems solved. So I have to think about my product in that. So I said all right, this would solve a problem for people like X, let me go speak to a variety of people like X and to see if it really solves a problem. And then I started realizing that in the 30 people I spoke to, 20 of them had a lot of similarities and they really were struggling to find something here. And they'd even spent money on trying to find solutions. So I figured that was like my hottest market.

    Gamal: And in the online space, you actually don't need to be the best product. We actually grew from zero to 60K and did multiple six figures in our first year, not by trying to be the best product, but just trying to be different. I knew our product was going to be good, but every brand says we're the best product. No one is really saying hey we use crappy ingredients or we probably don't put our customers first. Everyone is saying the same thing. We use the best ingredients, we're the best. So the results have to speak for themselves.

    Gamal: You just want someone to try your product once. And so the way to get someone to try your product once, is to try to stand out and be indifferent, not trying to sell yourself as being best. And so with those 20 people, I found a way that I could stand out by being different to those people who were really spending a lot of time and effort to try to solve that problem. Does that make sense?

    Felix: Yeah. I think this is a good point about how you don't need to be the best, you just need to be different. So how different are we talking about? What was your differentiator?

    Gamal: Yeah so, for example, I realized that certain men within certain profiles, professions and education level and stuff like that, a large portion of them were using female products for natural women to groom themselves. And I found out why, because of a couple of presumed benefits of using those products. But those men all would have rathered to find a product specifically for them, with these same perceived benefits but that didn't exist. What existed for men ... Or they were trying to sell men on other benefits, which I found these people weren't interested in. So I just introduced a product to the market that one, worked, but that's a given. And you would figure that out once you try it. But had a different message in like I wasn't trying to go down the left road with my messaging. I found out through research and speaking to people ... Not my friends, not my family, but actual customers. I found out that they were actually interested in trying to find something that went the right road and that's how I positioned my product.

    Felix: Got it. So you took like messaging as benefits that were in women's products and positioned it or I guess targeted it at men?

    Gamal: That's correct. And I realized that wasn't being done before in a way that men were looking for solutions.

    Felix: Right. So the wrong approach, an approach that you would now recommend is to look for the benefits that are traditionally talked about in men's products and say that you did those better. Rather than doing that, you looked for a completely different message. Talking about completely different benefits that were not put in front of the target demographic that you were going after before.

    Gamal: Yeah. That's where the real opportunity is. And the real opportunity is listening. So humans don't really know what they want, but if you are good about understanding that, it'll make sense to you. So like as a famous quote that Henry Ford said, "If I would have asked people what they wanted before I launched Ford, they would have told me a faster horse." And he gave them a faster horse, but he gave them a faster horse that looked very different in the form of a car. And they were like, "Wait, I can still go from point A to B more reliably, faster. Like what's this thing? Let me try this out." And it's the same thing. So don't necessarily go out and really build a faster horse, but when you get the information, think through how you can take what customers are telling you they're trying to spend money on and do it in a uniquely different way that'll intrigue them and give them an opportunity to start your own community of people who are interested in solving that problem by the way your product solves the problem.

    Felix: So this all starts again with listening like you were saying. And the approach that you take, or you recommend that you've taken that you teach other entrepreneurs to take is that you go out and you talk to ideal customers, your assumed target customers, and then you tell them, "Hey I was going to start this product, I was going to create this product, but then I found out that it already exists and there's actually no real need for it." And then you just wait to hear their feedback. I think you put this in the pre-interview. Is this your ugly baby syndrome test?

    Gamal: Yeah. That's exactly it. So it's like, using negative framing for the ugly baby and the analogy that I created around this is that if you had an ugly baby, it would be impossible for you to realize that because you're so emotionally attached to your baby. So how would you figure out if your baby was actually ugly? And this analogy, like if your business is your baby, people see how much hours you spend, maxing out credit cards, doing crazy stuff, to get this baby off the ground. So the people who love and care about you will definitely not be the right people to tell you that this is an ugly baby. But, the good thing about a business is that you have an opportunity to fix your baby. It's not like a one-shot fix all. Most businesses actually go through what the tech world creates as pivots. And so I used a lot of their lean startup strategies to implement in a traditional commerce brand. So just the same way that tech companies do a lot of research and then they hit the ground running and grow real fast, I know that if ecommerce brands take this kind of approach to what they're doing, once they find something that people want, they're going to create really hot demand and it can grow really fast as well.

    Felix: Now, when you go into this ugly baby syndrome testing, how much of a hypothesis do you have or do you try to go in with no kind of ... When I say a hypothesis I mean like, how do you know what you should be listening for?

    Gamal: Yeah, great question. So before you try to validate, you should definitely have a hypothesis to work towards. You shouldn't just be wandering aimlessly to have people figure this out. Henry Ford said, "Hey, what do you want? How do you want to improve this transportation?" So you need to have some hypothesis of a problem. So just start taking back at your own life. The best problems are ones that you know and you have a passion about. So take a look at your bank statements, where are you spending money. Take a look at what you're researching on YouTube, what interests you. And you know if you are interested in cars, don't think that you have to make a car. There's a whole ecosystem of things related to the automobile industry from little gadgets, performance enhancements, cleaning tools, simple things. So just have a look at your life, where you spend your time, where you spend your money, your attention, and figure out what things in your life are kind of annoying that you wish people could fix or wish were different. Or even better, what are the things that you just assume cannot be fixed? Those are the real opportunities. Those are like the gems hidden in plain sight.

    Gamal: So for me, I just assumed all men, when they wanted to do this, they just bought women products. That's how you do it. But I realize in that embarrassing moment that it didn't have to be that way. And so the kind of things, the routine things you do every single day, just kind of slow down your thought process and just realize, why am I doing this? Do I have to drink from this water bottle? Do I have to do things this way? Do I need a book bag and another bag? Is there a way to do things differently? Just have a good survey of your life and you'll be surprised at the many opportunities that you can solve a problem for yourself and then hopefully find millions of other people in the world who would like to have that problem solved for them too, through the product you could introduce.

    Felix: Now have you had to turn down products after going through this or for this particular brand, for Fresh Heritage, what kind of tweaks or pivots have you had to make based on the feedback that you were getting?

    Gamal: Yeah, that's a really great question. The feedback loop doesn't stop when you launch. So you should always early on be in a mode of, I'm not selling. Well, once you launch you should sell, but you should also have a hat of research, product development, feedback loop. And so our initial version, we ended up tweaking it about four times just based on feedback from people. And you know there's another famous startup quote that if you are not completely embarrassed by the first version of your product, you waited too long to launch. Like, I know it's your baby and you want it to be perfect when you launch in the world, but the reality is, all of the brands that you know now, they once were a really crappy way different versions of themselves when they first launched. And so the best way to figure that process out and to tweak it is to put it out in the market and let your actual customers tell you how they would like the product improved. You don't know how they would like it, your family doesn't know. No one knows but your customers. So that's the fastest and best way to make improvements. Because you don't want to improve things that they don't even care about. So you don't want to make wrong assumptions about that.

    Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that's actually a relief that you don't have to come up with the ideas in your own brain. And instead you should be a good detective and ask the right questions and hunt down the answers rather than try to kind of just wish it into existence into your creativity. So, can you give examples of pivots that you had to make? And what was the feedback that drove you towards that pivot?

    Gamal: So one of the pivots that we had to make was around our aroma and our fragrance. We decided, what a lot of brands do in this industry is like the beauty space. They come out with multiple variations of aromas. And I knew I didn't want to be ... Because I didn't have a lot of experience with product development. So I chose to instead of launching fast rapidly, to put all my eggs in one basket. And to really spend all my marketing dollars on one product versus let's say you have $10,000 to spend, I could spend 10 grand on one thing, maximizing that exposure on ads versus launching 10 products and only spending $1,000 behind each product. And so that was my strategy. But to create one product that the majority of people would love is a very difficult thing.

    Gamal: People have so many different preferences and so one of the main things that went into the variations early on was, trying to find something that a majority of people would like and putting it out there and getting feedback from people. Oh, this is too musky, oh this is too fresh, oh this is too strong. Do you have anything lighter? You guys should come up with an unscented one. Oh, like why do you ask that? Why would you like something unscented? Oh, because I work in a place where people are close to my face and so I don't want this or I have a favorite cologne so I don't want it to overpower it. And so all this feedback from customers came back and that allowed us to continue tweaking and tweaking our aroma until we found something that there was no indifference. People didn't complain about it anymore and people actually started liking it.

    Felix: So you mentioned to us I think earlier in the podcast about how you went from zero to $60,000 in just your first 90 days. And it all come down to customer discovery. So what is customer discovery to you?

    Gamal: Yeah. So customer discovery, figuring out who your target demographic is. I actually have a statement, it's called the three P statement, that I teach everyone to learn about their brand and to implement it. The three P's essentially, person, problem and promise. So what person can you be meaningful to in their lives by solving a problem for them and making a big promise about that problem so that you can improve their lives? So person, problem, promise. And so, customer discovery is about figuring who that person is, what problem they have in their life that you can make better, and how you can launch a product in the marketplace that can give them a big promise about how you can improve that area of their life.

    Felix: Can we get into how specific each of these things should be? So when it comes down to the person, how specific were you?

    Gamal: Yeah, I'll give you an example. A kind of more general product that everyone could probably understand a little clearer, because people may not be aware of grooming needs for men of color. So someone I work with was launching a fitness company and they were trying to create a product that people could use at home to do at home workout routines. And they wanted to be meaningful to stay at home moms. Well, that person wasn't a stay at home mom, and that person didn't work out at home. That person worked out at the gym. And they launched and the product didn't go anywhere. And so we went through this exercise about who they wanted to be meaningful to and the promise. And I'm like, "All right, well that promise could be meaningful to a stay at home mom, but I think the promise should be, not that you can help them workout at home, but maybe something else, so go do your research." And what they found is that stay at home moms hated working out from home. That was the one time of day they got to actually get away from the kids, go have time for their selves and actually interact with people at the gym. So giving them an idea to stay at home was something they absolutely hated. And you wouldn't realize that by talking to your friends and family because they're going to think yeah, this is a good idea.

    Gamal: You only know that by speaking to stay at home moms. And so what she did was she tweaked her promise. And so she made that, instead of an at-home workout device, she made it available for people to use at the gym to further enhance their workout. So she realized, stay at home moms all wanted a certain physique after having kids, and so she created these workout apparatuses or devices that help them to get that desired physique much faster. So same person, a different way of how you can deliver that promise, and also a different pain point. So they did not have a pain of wanting to workout better at home, they had a pain of trying to get to the gym and maximize how they look while they were there. Does that make sense?

    Felix: It does. Yep, makes sense. Okay. So once you are able to put down these three P's, how does that translate into the kind of marketing and advertising that you're doing?

    Gamal: Yeah, and so then that transitioned into your differentiation statement. Once you have those three things down, figure out a way where you can be different. Like that example, this helps moms with recently had babies to get back in that type of body they want to have while at the gym. And so then your marketing becomes real easy because you've done the time to talk to the customers and figure out what pain points they have. And so people buy emotionally and then justify it logically. Well, technically they make a buying decision subconsciously based on Life Force 8 things, like an extension of life, to be desired by the opposite sex. There are eight of them. And once one of those kicks into gear, it attaches an emotion to it, like love or like sexiness or whatever. And then you justify it logically. And so, that really helps you translate into your market. And so you don't lead by saying, "Hey, this is a strong band. It can withstand all sorts of workouts." You would lead with the emotional side of things, and let them know you understand that this is their time away from the family and they should maximize it and get back to how they were looking prior to having this kid.

    Gamal: So you really don't even sell any of the features of it. You just really sell the benefits of it. And that really helps translate into a really clear marketing campaign where any average person who knows Facebook ads with all of that information can really get successful results from a beginner Facebook ads campaign because you have a clear targeting, you have your audience down pat, you have messaging down pat. And those are really the most important things in finding success with running ads.

    Felix: You mentioned that you don't want to advertise a product, you want to tap into the emotional needs. You mentioned that there were eight emotional needs.

    Gamal: Yeah. It's this thing called the Life Force 8. It's essentially long research that's been conducted that found out that the majority of decisions people make all tie back to these eight principles. And so there are things like an extension of life, keeping up with the Joneses, superiority effect. Like wanting to be known and seen as an authority. The sexual desire from the opposite sex. So for example, if you were selling just regular clothes, a red dress, one way you can tap into Life Force 8 is not by saying, "Hey, this is Pima cotton and it's red, buy it now." You can say stuff like, "Hey this shade of red has been statistically proven to increase or to attract the opposite sex by 30% more." Or, "This type of cotton has maximum stretching capabilities so it hugs your curves the same way, wash after wash." Like tapping into really small things about that that just help go one layer deeper than feature is when you go into emotional benefits. That people don't even realize they're always going through life trying to go after those eight things with every decision they make.

    Felix: Got it. So it sounds like it stems all back to that kind of interview that you're doing with your target customer. So when you are doing this interview or you're asking them questions, are you looking to identify or see a problem that is tied back to Life Force 8?

    Gamal: Yeah. Well it's kind of the opposite way. All problems are tied back to Life Force 8. So when you identify the problem, you just need to understand it and realize, okay this problem falls under these two or under these three. And the more your problem can hit the more Life Force 8s, the stronger of an opportunity you have to sell that to other people.

    Felix: I want to really dig on this interview, this conversation you're having with a customer. Because it sounds like by doing this and doing this part right, a lot of your marketing kind of just works for you.

    Felix: When you or one of your students sits down to interview their target customer, what questions should they be asking to figure out those two pieces, the problem, and the promise?

    Gamal: Right. So I think the best way to figure that out is to work on a problem that is dear to you. So don't work on problems that you don't know. It's just going to make this process a lot more difficult. And so that's why I said, the first part is starting to figure out where you spend your time, energy, resources, attention. And you'll have a better understanding of what the problem is. And so from that approach, you can interview your customers from an approach like, "Hey, I thought this was important to me, but I realize, no one else cares about it. You're a mom, you're a stay at home mom too, so what do you think about your gym activity?" Or, "You're a man of color too. What do you think about your grooming routine?" Or, "How do you find your products? Do you buy it online too, or do you like it delivered to you?" So I think if you start from that, only working on stuff that you actually know about, it's going to make the process of interviewing and finding out questions a lot easier.

    Felix: So I want to pause here for a second. Is there a difference between covering topics or going after markets that are problems that you're facing versus solutions that you know about? I guess what I'm trying to ask is if you are really skilled at Facebook ads, and you kind of almost blind to the problems after a while right, because you no longer are facing these problems as consistently versus someone that is maybe just getting started with the Facebook ads for the first time. The problems are probably so glaring in their face. So if you're someone that is looking to sell a product in teaching people how to run Facebook ads, for example, do you look for a place that you are currently facing problems or do you look for a place that you already have the solutions for?

    Gamal: I think it's best to start with the mindset of, I have this problem and let me figure out who else has this problem and understand it that way. Even though you may have a solution in mind, I think having a solution in mind and trying to figure out where you can shove it, is bad because you don't listen to what people are telling you. It's almost like you're walking in a doctor's office and saying, "Hey doctor, I have" ... And he just shuts you up and is like, "Yeah, you need this pill right here, here you go."

    Gamal: You're trying to find a way to shove this down someone's throat. And that isn't as authentic as really just ... That's a selling process. You need to really first, before you sell, validate. And with validation the best ways to validate is really just by having an open slate and really just focusing on hearing and listening. Once you gather all that stuff, you can go back to your thing and say, okay well, this solution I had might be a good fit, or maybe I need to do some small tweaks. But you're going to have a much better chance scaling and marketing to people when you're just listening and hearing things from their perspective, versus trying to shove a preconceived solution down someone's throat and having to convince them that they need it.

    Felix: Okay, so once you're on this call, you are trying to identify the problems that they have. You're writing it down, you're recording it. You're not actually presenting the promises or the products on the call at that time. You are just collecting information, collecting data, and then going back to the lab and then going through that in a batch to understand what are the potential promises/products to offer.

    Gamal: Yeah. You're a good interviewer. That's absolutely correct. You're condensing this process into a really concise interview. That's pretty good. So that's correct. You only interview, and the takeaway ... And this all helps into your launch. The takeaway would be like, "Hey, Felix, all right, thanks for your time. Based on what you said, maybe I will consider continuing to work on this even though it's going to be very time consuming and financially costly. But if I do work on it, do you mind me getting back in touch with you and allowing you to be one of the first people that get the solution?" Most people say yes. And then when you come back for the second round, you say, "Hey, I heard what you said. You had a problem with this. I'm thinking I can solve your solution by creating this product with this feature. Does that sound good? If it does, you told me to not drop this idea and to pick it back up, so I need you to show me some support if you'd like to pre-order, here is your opportunity to help me validate this thing."

    Gamal: So that works into the second reel. So the interviews, because you don't sell them at the time and because you kind of let them know that what you're going to do is dictated based on their feedback, that also gives you a really good pool of audience to be your first customers. So you don't launch to crickets. So you have people who are depending on you now and know that their feedback is what's bringing this to market. So you have, once again, some of the Life Force 8 tools of buying and reciprocity and all these things that people feel now almost obligated to support you because you're bringing something to market that they told you they needed that would solve a problem in their lives. So that's when you do the selling.

    Felix: Awesome. Okay, so I think that process lays it out completely from start to end. Now I'll talk about another marketing tool, marketing strategy that you've done, which has sold multi six figures of sales for you off of a single variation of beard oil from a Facebook video that you created with an influencer. So tell us more about this. Talk to us through this process. How did you get in touch with the influencer, to begin with?

    Gamal: Yeah, actually through this process of interviewing. And I found someone who was very credible and had this problem and wanted to be a part of this journey that I was going on to help solve this problem for many other people and to launch the product. I wasn't really sold on being the face of the brand initially because historically I've never been, I've just been like the behind the scenes nerd. And for marketing purposes, I thought it would be much better to have an influencer who had credibility talk about the product that we were launching and so we worked together to create a very simple campaign on our iPhone and we launched it and we spent a lot of money on ads profitably on that. And in our first year that video got seen over 22 million times, and contributed to a large part of our sales.

    Felix: Awesome. Okay, so this was just from you networking. Like how were you able to get in touch? This is an influencer that already had an influence or someone that started working with you from scratch?

    Gamal: Yeah. This is someone who already had an influence. The word influence, when people say it, I don't necessarily mean someone with like a million followers. I can't think of at the time, but this person maybe had under 10,000 so they were a nano or micro-influencer. Influence in the sense that they were credible. So if I wanted to launch a fitness program, and I knew nothing about fitness or I was out of shape or whatever, an influencer could just be someone who owns a gym or someone who has a workout program, or someone who just has a good body and is credible or has a YouTube channel.

    Gamal: Having them talk about the benefits. Or a well-known mom. You know in that previous example. Someone that's very popular that has kids and has nothing to do with fitness. But they're a credible source on being a parent and a mother. So finding someone like that to really help you create your message because when you're a new brand, you want people to give you a shot. And so thinking back to Life Force 8, there are some things that are always going on in the background and credibility and social proof is one of the things that is really important when trying to get someone to try out a new thing for the first time.

    Felix: Okay, so credibility and social proof. Are there any other keys to include in the video that has led to so much success for you?

    Gamal: Yeah the main two components of a great simple video is the user benefit, which you would only know through the long process we just talked about. And then a product demonstration video. So you want to remove all of the noise and the reasons that people in their heads would say, I don't need this. And if you can do that in your marketing, you're going to convert people a lot faster. You can very quickly let the person know, "Hey I'm credible, I understand what you're going through. We created a product for it. These are the ways it benefits your problem. Because we understand you and by the way, it's not complex to use because it's different. It's not complex, it's very similar to other things you know. Heres how you use it." So you take away that reservation of, "Hey, this is different, I don't know how to use it." So a user benefit demonstration is always important.

    Felix: Okay so we really dialed in on the messaging and the content, like behind the ads themselves I think. The other critical component of this is how do you actually target the right people? So what's your approach here to make sure that you're putting the right message in front of the right person?

    Gamal: Yeah. That's a very good question. And almost the biggest mistake that people make with ads. So you have to understand that people aren't on the same journey at the same time for your product. And so the best way to look this up is something called the upside framework. And I actually have a free video case study that is on my site that talks about this. I'll try to condense into like a minute. So the upside framework is the best way of understanding where people are from U to D. It essentially means from the U side, people have no idea, they're unaware. And then P, they are aware of the problem, but not that you have a solution. The S means they're aware of the solution but not that you provide the solution. And then they figure out that you're a brand that provides a solution and then now they're looking for a deal. So someone who doesn't even know that they have a problem and doesn't even know that a solution exists for their problem is not interested in a 20% discount code. I don't care how big of a discount you give someone, if they don't know that they need that thing then it's never going to work. And so, how you communicate with people based on where they are is the best way to do targeting. And not like, they like this magazine, but more so behavior.

    Gamal: So in a simple example of a dentist, if you have teeth pain but you don't know that a cavity exists and then you become aware that a cavity exists but not that Felix the dentist could remove it. And then you become aware that Felix the dentist exists and that he also has an office around the corner from your job. At that point, you start figuring out, well what's the reviews like? Does he take my insurance? What are the appointments like? What's the cost? And so a lot of people jump the gun, which is the common theme here. Not jumping the gun in your launch. Not jumping the gun in your communication and just assuming everybody knows that you exist, how your product benefits them and all that stuff and you just right to a deal. So you need to create ads that educate people and communicate people based on where they're at in the journey. And it sounds complex, but it's actually very simple to do.

    Felix: Got it. So I guess when you break it down into what this would look like in your Facebook ads manager, it sounded like there's like four or five steps. Are you just talking about like four to five different campaigns that are pixeling the users at different stages that they've hit your website?

    Gamal: Yeah. That's exactly it. So the simplest form, it could be three steps. So, the first step could be ... And you know, I actually don't use any targeting in my ads. Like interest targeting. I never use any of that stuff. Like magazines, TV shows, age, all that stuff. I use essentially just lookalikes and targeting based off behavior. That's the ultimate way to figure out what people's doing. So, the first bucket are complete strangers. And the content you show them there are educational type content, like letting them know, "Hey, you may be experiencing this back pain or your beard might be doing this, here's actually why it's doing this. It's this thing called this." And just educating them on their problem, that a solution exists. 

    Felix: So real quick. So you are educating them in that ad itself. Like you're not trying to drive them to a page that's educating them? How much value are you offering inside the ad itself?

    Gamal: Yeah. So if you do a video, that's why I said the ideal video would be a user benefits video, where you can explain this. It just depends on where you are. Your brand and stuff. It's not like a one size fits all. Depending on how much your products cost, how new you are, how much social proof you have, would dictate my answer. But you can do this through a lengthy video, through a long copy ad, or sending people to a blog post or having them do a lead generation campaign where you're getting their email and educating them through an email series. Depending on your niche, who you're selling to, and how much your product costs would determine the answer in that. Because a 55-year-old doesn't need to consume content like a 24-year-old.

    Gamal: And if you're spending money on a $100 product, it's different than the education you need on a $12 product.

    Felix: Right. Okay, so the very first thing is educational content. I think you said that the next middle of the funnel. What kind of ads are you running there?

    Gamal: So these are people who know that your problem exists. So this is really helpful to let people know that you ... Sorry, these are people who know a problem exists. And so now you need to educate them on that you have a solution and that your solution is uniquely qualified and different to solve that problem for them. And then the idea here is to try to get people to visit your website and add products to cart and also convert, but at least add products to the cart. And by them taking the action and adding it to cart, you can assume that they are aware of the problem, aware of a solution, aware that your solution exists, and is pretty interested in your solution because they've checked it out, went to your website, they've clicked on your ad, read your ad, watched your video, sorted through your website, figured out a product they like, added it to cart. So they've taken like four or five steps. That's behavior that you can use to figure out that people are interested. But the average website conversion's about 2%. Things happen. Their phone has died. They're at work at the end of their lunch break. They mean to get back to it, and they never do.

    Gamal: And so the third bucket is really just ... These are where you make deals. These are people who've added it to your cart, you know they've been educated along the whole way, they know your brand, they know the problem. They just need to know if they're going to get free shipping or if you're going to give them a discount or to get reminders that other customers are currently using and loving the product, or other customers are getting results. So this is where a deal needs to be made. And so social proof or a bribe is what we kind of focus on as an offer in this bucket.

    Felix: Got it. And in terms of targeting, you mentioned that at first you're looking at behavior-based targeting. And then after that it's the ... You're retargeting the people that have added to cart or visit a site, and then you retarget people that ... Sorry, you retarget people that have visited the site as a second bucket and the then the last bucket is retarget people that have added to cart.

    Gamal: Correct.

    Felix: Got it. Awesome. So when you say behavior, you don't do any kind of interest-based targeting, only behavior based targeting. And you also mentioned lookalike. So if someone's starting from scratch, they have no customer lists to build lookalikes off of, what's the recommended approach there when you're just a brand new kind of prospecting strangers essentially?

    Gamal: Yeah, the best approach that I recommend is focussing on list building. List building is definitely like something that a lot of people gloss over. But building a list is something that you own regardless of if your social media shuts down or whatever. You don't have any more money to run ads or you get in a bind. You can send an email out and generate revenue. Every single email we've ever sent since launching this brand has made money. Some have made a lot more than others, but at least some revenue. And so the best way to do that is by behavior.

    Gamal: The first ads you should actually launch are probably ads to grow your list or to get as many customers as possible by a variety of different ways or people who are interested in your product. And then you would take that and turn that into a lookalike audience as quickly as possible. So if you have no customers and no list, you're completely starting from scratch, I would try to get people who are at least interested in your product. So creating some sort of lead magnet or some sort of offer around educating people on the solution. That way people can self select and only opt into your lead magnet and that would tell you that hey, everyone on this list is actually maybe interested in this problem.

    Gamal: So if you're working with stay at home moms and working out, you can create a lead magnet that says, "Hey, the best workout advice for stay at home moms." Or, "The best gym routines for stay at home moms." And that way you know everyone on that list is a potential customer. A non-stay-at-home mom would not be interested in that offer.

    Felix: Got it. Makes sense. Awesome. So thanks so much Gamal. So is the website. What has been the biggest lesson that you learned last year that you are applying this year or you want to apply this year?

    Gamal: Yeah, less is more. The best way to grow is actually not by doing more, but by doing less. So cutting out some of the distractions. There's so many apps and new features and things like that. It's really easy as an entrepreneur to get shiny object syndrome. But just focus on the fundamentals. Focus on understanding how to market your business, how to understand your customers and give them what they need. The new shiny object's going to come and go, but if you just focus on solving a problem, serving your customers, and not getting caught up in new shiny objects, I think that has been a really helpful for me to do more with my brand. And I think that most every entrepreneur could just need that reminder to stop chasing shiny objects and to double down on their main thing.

    Felix: Beautiful. Thank you so much, Gamal.

    Gamal: Yeah. Thanks, man. Thanks for having me.