Tom Bilyeu is the founder of Quest Nutrition. If you live under a rock and aren’t familiar with Quest, they sell protein bars, powder, pasta and more, but you probably know them by their protein bar, which you may have seen in a gas station or two.
And amongst the startup crowd, they’re famous for being one of the fastest growing food companies in the world with an unheard of growth rate of 57,000% in 3 years.
So, how did a company founded by three guys with zero food industry experience grow to hundreds of millions in revenue and $1 billion valuation less than 5 years after launching?
Same way Tony Perkis did it in Heavyweights: send a bunch of tweens to summer camp.
Just kidding. Here’s the real story:
Meet Tom Bilyeu, founder of Quest Nutrition
The former University of Southern California film major turned marketer started his career with Awareness Tech, a data loss company. After serving as their Chief Marketing Officer for 8 years, Tom was disenchanted with the work. And, when the company sold in 2010, Tom asked himself what he’d love to do, even if he were failing.
After losing 60 pounds, Tom wanted to help a few of his morbidly obese family members do the same. During this process, he became passionate about fitness and diet. And, to his surprise, the founders of his former company shared a similar passion. So, they decided to go in together on their next venture: a nutrition company.
In 2010, Tom started Quest.
Although he didn’t have a background in the food industry, Tom and his team started making protein bars out of their kitchen. And, after a few months of honing in on a repeatable recipe with no added sugar and dialing in the taste, they went looking for a manufacturer.
Problem was, not everyone was as stoked about their bars as they were. In fact, they were turned down by every manufacturer they reached out to.
So, Tom and his team decided to build the equipment on their own. Co-founder, Mike Osborn (an Iowa farm boy) had no experience in manufacturing, but he assured Tom that he could make the equipment work. They knew failure would be expensive, but they decided to give it a go. And wouldn’t ya know it, the modification worked…
They were able to produce a low-carb protein bar with no sugar alcohol.
With manufacturing solved, they just had to figure out how to sell the bars (minor detail).
Tom sent a thousand hand-written letters (including Quest bars) to fitness influencers. And, as these workout warriors started flexin’ their social muscles, the sales started rollin’ in. Tom estimates they did close to $10 million in e-commerce revenue by year two, before ever moving into retail.
Quest grew a loyal following by giving out thousands of free protein bars.
GNC and Vitamin Shop were the first retailers to sell Quest. To gain more exposure, Quest used thousands of brand ambassadors to push the product. From Crossfit events to local health fairs, Quest tried to get in front of as many community-minded people as possible.
What makes Quest so much different than their competitors?
From day one, Tom and his team were 100% keyed in on the “why,” which, in their case, was to end metabolic disease. That means when it comes to new product launches, the team sacrifices product margin to provide as much value as possible to the customer.
They’re also leading the pack in customer service. No joke, Tom once received a complaint that a customer chipped a tooth on a Quest bar… so he covered their dental bill (PSA: Don’t try this at home).
And what have they gotten for going the extra mile? Oh, just insane growth numbers — by year 4, they hit $105 million in sales, all without any outside funding.
As of 2016, they’re rumored to have sales well north of $400 million, making them the 2nd fastest growing bootstrapped company in the country in the last five years.
Not too shabby, huh? But hey, don’t take our word for it, hear Tom speak in person about how he took Quest from a home kitchen to a $1 billion company at Hustle Con on June 23rd in Oakland.