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Gender bias ingrained in the food and beverage marketing wasn’t necessarily on top of Vincent Bradley’s mind when the 32-year-old serial entrepreneur decided to launch an energy drink company a few years ago out of a personal need while managing to sell his previous software business.
After learning there was a lack of clean energy shots on the market, Bradley developed a line of products, which he later named Proper Wild that uses high-quality organic caffeine, and L-theanine extracted from different types of green tea to provide people with long-lasting energy, as well as increased focus and productivity.
But it wasn’t until his meetings with several energy drink manufacturers and venture funds in the consumer space that Bradley realized his business would likely hit the wall due to its colorful and light-hearted packaging.
“I was told we were going to fail because our branding was too feminine,” Bradley recently told me via Zoom, noting how the category heavily tilts toward masculine branding.
Appealing to female consumers
Indeed, the $14 billion industry in the U.S. is filled with products that intentionally target male audiences by associating them with extreme sports or any events that elicit traditional masculinities.
Notable brands from Red Bull to Monster initially hoped to set themselves apart from other non-alcoholic beverages when they first entered the market in the ’90s by establishing young men as their core consumer base, according to The NPD Group’s analysis, though studies and critics showed how this gender-based marketing has threatened people’s health by taking advantage of male insecurities.
However, through experiments on social media using various visualizations and branding strategies, Bradley and his team found the percentage of women requesting for energy products was slightly higher than that of men, which explains why 54% of Proper Wild’s customers are female.
“We’re not geniuses here,” said Bradley, “it’s just that most of these legacy products were created by old white men, [therefore,] they’re made for white men.”
He added: “We think being gender-neutral is going to be a huge strength for us as our subscription orders are currently led by moms, and close to 20% of our customers have never had an energy shot before.”
Rapid monthly growth
This strategy has successfully helped Proper Wild carve out a sweet spot not only in a market dominated by brands, such as 5-hour Energy, but also in the wellness shots category where a slew of immunity-boosting products recently sprang up targeting increasingly health-conscious shoppers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a strong repurchase rate of over 20%, and a monthly 25% growth rate,” Bradley said, noting how launching Proper Wild directly online has helped the brand avoid competing for limited shelf space with category incumbents.
“We’ve grown about 800% [in sales] since March,” he added. “We’re right in that $85,000 monthly revenue range, and on track to hit $1 million run rate [in December].”
However, the biggest challenge for Proper Wild is sourcing the right ingredients since botanics in natural plants, such as ginseng, are oftentimes perceived as healthy alternatives to caffeine, but can’t withstand the high-temperature pasteurization process required for making products without preservatives.
“We have to hot fill our bottles that also need to be stored in a low-PH environment, and none of the botanical stimulants can survive that process,” Bradley told me. “So we were basically left with caffeine — the most robust, stable stimulant on the market. We source the highest quality organic caffeine extracted from green tea leafs, which doesn’t have a catabolic effect on the body like synthetic caffeine.”
Big opportunities after successful fundraising
Proper Wild’s rapid growth has caught the attention of several investment firms and wealthy individuals, which led the company to successfully raise $3 million this year ahead of its launch into brick-and-mortar retailers.
The billionaire investor Carey Metz, whom Bradley made the acquaintance with through his previous venture, has reportedly taken a 20% stake in the energy shot brand at a $12 million valuation.
Proper Wild has tested its products across 2,000 stores, many of which are bodegas in New York City, with customized displays that cost around $25 each. “Our sales velocity doubled with those retail displays, and our plan is to eventually put a display in every store in America,” Bradley said.
Additionally, he told me there are some “big opportunities on the horizon” for Proper Wild as the team has added an education page on their website to make subscriptions “ridiculously easy”, and simultaneously launched a bulk discount program that allows the company to drive down the price of its products below the average on the market.
“2021 is going to be a big year for us,” Bradley said. “We’re expecting a couple of million dollars [in sales] from online based on our current trajectory, and $5-20 million from retail.”