It’s by pure happenstance that Adriaan and Ret even met…
Let alone grew a wildly successful direct-to-consumer product company together.
The year was 2012––
Adriaan was on a 2-year traveling hiatus.
BroBible, his men’s lifestyle media company, had just been acquired and he was taking time to plot his next move.
Ret was running a successful furniture company in Saudi Arabia… and was the largest supplier of military tents in the middle east.
Despite remarkable financial success, a sense of dissatisfaction and disconnect existed for him.
He and his wife packed up and moved to Boulder, Colorado.
Now… Adriaan and Ret are about to cross paths for the first time… and what transpires after is the making of an epic startup story you won’t want to miss…
Each week on the StartupCamp Podcast we bring you incredible stories of founders and angel investors. The goal is to give you insider tips and tricks on how to build your business or become a successful angel investor.
I spoke to Adriaan Zimmerman and Ret Taylor, founders of the direct-to-consumer natural remedies company, Ned.
We discussed how their unique journeys led them to found a natural remedies company.
Both of them experienced major success, followed by massive burnout that forced them to rethink their ideas on success and happiness.
Ultimately, they discovered that the best way to help themselves was to make a company devoted to helping others.
In this podcast write-up, we go over the founders’ ups and downs, how they founded Ned, and their secrets to success.
Adriaan’s entrepreneurial prowess was forged in New York City. There he founded a popular Men’s Lifestyle media company called BroBible.
He grew BroBible to 15 million readers a month before it was acquired in 2012.
This success helped Adriaan to check off all of the boxes he had made for himself — money, reputation, status.
After his successful exit, the money was flowing in and Adriaan was living the life he thought he wanted. However, despite the bachelor pad, weekend getaways, and hockey tickets, Adriaan felt a deep dissatisfaction and loneliness. The things he thought would make him happy just weren’t fulfilling him.
After suppressing these feelings for a time, he found himself at a breaking point. During a presentation in front of his 75 employees, Adriaan had a serious panic attack. His hands were shaking and he was unable to speak.
It was as if that thing he had been suppressing was finally too much to hold back. The next day he had broken out in shingles and was just falling apart.
He knew he had two paths ahead of him. He could go see a shrink, take some Xanax, and keep going — or he could take a step back and finally unpack what had been building up for years.
Sometimes we measure success by the size of our bank accounts.
That day Adriaan had a panic attack, he had plenty of money. He was thriving financially but still missing something deeper. It all came down to the identity he had created for himself, one based around financial gain above all else.
Adriaan took a step back and went traveling to find his answers.
What was supposed to be a two-month break turned into a 2-year sojourn.
Living out of a backpack, he wrote, learned to chop wood and gut fish, and invested in areas of his life he had long neglected.
Two major findings came out of this period — Adriaan’s deep connection to nature, and his understanding of the value of simplicity.
Ret was raised in a hard-working Irish family. They kept their noses to the grindstone and rarely talked about their feelings. Ret got really good at living this way.
After years of hard work, he took his business to Saudi Arabia, a long-time dream of his.
His successful furniture company led into several other successful ventures and before he knew it he was the largest supplier of military tents in the middle east and was working with the royal family.
However, despite the fabulous financial success, a sense of dissatisfaction and disconnect was brewing.
Ret’s wife would wake him up at least once a month because he was laughing in his sleep.
Then, after being away from his wife and daughter for two years, he would wake up crying in the middle of the night. When this happened to him for the third time in a month he knew something was seriously wrong. He says this was his “Xanax moment”.
Just like Adriaan, Ret needed to reassess his life and find simplicity.
Four months later Ret and his family had moved to Boulder, Colorado. He says this was the best thing he had ever done.
Living in the mountains, connecting with nature, and bringing things back to basics was just what he needed.
He then took things a step further and went out on a personal experiment.
Ret spent seven weeks living in nature. He lived out of the back of his truck, hopping on his workstation to work from mountain tops and river beds. After this, he was “firing on so many cylinders” and was finally living his best life.
This is when he realized his purpose — to help people reconnect with nature to improve their lives, just as he had done.
This was the spark that led to the founding of Ned.
Adriaan had been writing about his experiences while on his break. He spoke honestly about burn-out, panic attacks, and newfound connection to nature.
One person who seemed to connect to these writings more than others was his future business partner, Ret.
Having both gone through similar experiences, they instantly connected.
Adriaan started stopping by in Boulder, Colorado to meet with Ret, where they would chat, go on hikes, and eventually craft a business idea.
When Adriaan finally finished his travels he decided to move to Colorado. It was like the stars had finally aligned.
The Business Idea
Ret was first and foremost interested in starting a product line. He wanted to make natural products that help people feel better and live better.
When Ret’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer the doctors suggested chemotherapy. Instead, she opted to fight cancer through nutrition.
Ret took it upon himself to learn everything he could about health and nutrition to take care of his mother.
One thing that kept coming up in his research was CBD.
He purchased some CBD products for his mother but found no connection to any of the brands on the market at that time.
These brands didn’t illustrate who they were, why they were making this product, how it helped people, or where the hemp was grown. They were missing a huge opportunity to connect with their customers.
Ret set out to build a brand that could answer these questions.
Aligning with Partners
Ret hit the open roads to research hemp farms and talk to growers.
What he found was a culture focused on quantity over quality, which he knew wouldn’t work for his brand.
Eventually, he met a different kind of farmer. This farmer was focused on the quality of the product and the health of the consumer above all else.
After striking a deal, his new business partner turned him onto the best extraction facility in Colorado. The pieces were all coming together.
Ned’s Success and Growth
Adriaan and Ret focus on their CBD line first.
As they were going the direct-to-consumer route, building a brand identity and connecting to customers was the first goal.
Customers responded to the health-first, natural, and transparent culture they had created.
After locking down their place in the CBD market, the natural conclusion was to create new lines of natural remedy products.
Today, the company runs its “Nedquarters” out of Boulder, Colorado, complete with a laboratory, warehouse, and team of local growers. They have shipped tens of thousands of orders to customers around the world.
Reasons for Success
Throughout their journey, recurring nuggets of wisdom kept popping up and guiding them. These are the key takeaways that they say created their success with Ned.
1. Learn From Failure
Failure can be one of your greatest teachers.
Ned and Adriaan say that failure was the foundation for their business. Having the real-world experience to know what not to do is one of the biggest factors in maintaining success in a startup.
Each founder discovered what they were missing in life by getting knocked down, sniffing out the problem, and getting back up again to solve it.
2. Pick One Thing — Do It Exceptionally Well
Before over-complicating Ned, the founders decided to first entrench themselves in the CBD market.
From the beginning, they saw the possibilities in a diverse product line but decided to take things one step at a time.
Their famous CBD products created the backbone that Ned needed to build a direct-to-consumer customer base and grow long term.
3. Stick With What Works
While building up the brand they held on to one philosophy…
That is, focusing only on what’s working.
Rather than throwing resources and brain-power towards fixing what isn’t working, they decided to ride the currents of the market and discover what works by investing in only winning products and ideas.
4. Build a Great Team
The duo knew that they needed to surround themselves with amazing people.
Rather than taking on everything on their own, they hired and partnered with great minds.
From the farmers to marketers and health-experts, the all-star team is the reason for Ned’s success.
5. Start with “Why?”
The first thing they discussed was why they were starting the business. They nailed down exactly what they wanted to put into the market and why.
By starting with a vision and philosophy at the core of their business, the founders of Ned were able to keep their decision-making simple.
Adriaan and Ret knew that if their only goal is to connect to people and improve their health, then their only option is to make simple, honest, natural products.
We go over these essential things that mark a startup for success in our free ebook, Startup Investor’s Playbook.