From 0 to $28M revenue in 2 years

The marketing strategy that turned Jolie into a viral consumer brand

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While scrolling through LinkedIn on my way to the office, a post from Ryan Babenzien, the founder and CEO of Jolie, caught my attention. It said:

The art of marketing has been all but lost over the last 25 years. The market is dominated by digital natives whose careers were built around digital "marketing," which, in truth, is not really marketing. Measurement became the priority, and with that, performance actually decreased, creative was sacrificed, brand loyalty waned, and the ability to be a profitable early-stage company went out the window. Jolie made a conscious decision to use many of the old-school marketing tools, in spite of them having NO quantifiable measurement. Guess what, it works.

What a breath of fresh air! Finally, someone talking about the good, old, creative, and effective marketing. But what about the results? Jolie launched in 2022, did $4 million in revenue in their first year in business, and $28 million in 2023. All of that by raising very little money and being profitable from day zero. Without further ado, let's jump straight into how they did it.

The “aha” moment

Before Jolie, Ryan founded and exited Greats, a direct-to-consumer footwear brand. His experience with Greats gave him insight into the challenges of e-commerce, including the complexities and hidden costs associated with reverse logistics, returns, and exchanges, especially when dealing with products (like shoes) that come in multiple sizes.

This led him to seek out a new category where he could create an innovative, one-size-fits-all product. He envisioned a product that would eliminate the need for different sizes, minimize returns, and simplify logistics. His "aha" moment came when he noticed his skin becoming increasingly dry, prompting him to research water quality across America. "I discovered that there are harmful contaminants in all public water sources in the country," explains Ryan. "These contaminants can cause various skin and hair issues."

This realization made him aware that the beauty industry had long overlooked a crucial aspect of skin and hair wellness. In his own words, "The beauty industry was trying to solve the problem with topical products for the skin. But this didn't address the root cause, which is the water." Instead, Jolie developed a filtered showerhead that tackles the primary source of skin and hair problems—water quality. "We target the source," says Ryan. "We call it Step Zero. By improving the water, we can enhance your skin and hair without the need for any additional products."

How Jolie became a viral product

Can you think of any other showerhead brand that 25,000 people have made a video about on social media? I assume not. But that's exactly what happened with Jolie. Over 25,000 people have created videos about it, generating billions of organic views for free. So how did it happen?

It all started with the Jolie team manually reaching out to hundreds of content creators with a simple offer—they would send them a free Jolie showerhead in exchange for an honest video review. After the first few hundred people did this, it created a ripple effect where more and more content creators started to organically produce videos about Jolie, testing the filtered showerhead and discussing the results.

Although this initially required a manual and intensive process, the effort has paid off as Jolie has amassed around 25,000 user-generated content pieces in just over two years. Seriously, search for "Jolie showerhead" on TikTok, and you'll notice that the first three videos alone have a combined total of three million views. It's mind-boggling!

Ryan acknowledges, "It's a very manual process, and I think this is why most brands don't do it to the extent that we did. But if you can make it work, it becomes an essential part of your marketing plan, allowing your paid marketing to perform exceptionally well." This approach was a critical component of Jolie's strategy to build a successful brand from scratch. As Ryan states, "Turning a customer into an advocate is probably the most powerful marketing tactic that anybody could hope for."

You can (and should) manage what you don't measure

For instance, consider the creative outdoor advertising campaign Jolie launched in NYC, where a fleet of wrapped delivery trucks have been driving around the city for more than 9 months displaying the message "What if we told you that your shower water was dirtier than this truck?" An endless number of people have shared pictures of the trucks on social media, journalists have covered the story, and it’s been a highly effective and memorable tool for creating conversation.

Can we measure exactly how many people bought a Jolie because of or after seeing one of these trucks? No, we can't. But does that mean we shouldn't invest in more cool, creative campaigns that generate buzz for our companies? Of course we should!

💡 Did you know? Billboards, particularly those located in and around major cities are far too expensive for most early-stage companies to purchase (especially for extended periods of time). Wrapped delivery trucks, on the other hand, are a less well-known, but significantly more affordable and creative option for reaching high value, urban audiences.

Jolie’s truck advertising program was launched and managed by Crosswalk Media. If you want to make a splash with your own customized fleet, I highly recommend giving Crosswalk a try. Booking and launching a wrapped truck program with Crosswalk is fast, easy and affordable. In major cities, you can buy 10 massive trucks for the same price as a single billboard. If you’re interested in learning more, you can schedule a call with Brian Hands, the company’s founder.

*this is a sponsored callout, but Jolie used Crosswalk Media for real :)

Working with content creators, user-generated content videos, and creative campaigns has contributed to Jolie's rapid growth. So why don't more brands replicate this strategy? Ryan explains, "It's a dark area that's difficult to measure, and so they don't place enough value on it. But I've been doing this for 20 years, and I am confident that the unmeasured part is more valuable than the measured part. It's the unmeasured part that makes your measured part look really good. If you remove all of the unmeasured aspects, it will deteriorate. I've seen it happen many times. We took a different approach, which goes against industry best practices, but the results are clear. We achieved $28 million in revenue in our second year of business."

💡 On brand measurement: “Better Brand Health” is a fascinating book that delves into brand measurement. It shows that measuring brand building efforts is possible, but it doesn't involve direct attribution of purchases. Moreover, measuring brand building can be expensive, and it's not something early-stage startups should prioritize. But just because you can't measure brand building, that doesn't mean you shouldn't invest in it.

Discounts harm your brand

The de-prioritization of performance marketing is not the only controversial stance that I discussed with Ryan. Jolie also caused a stir in the industry a few months ago when they decided not to offer any discounts during Black Friday.

Ryan strongly criticizes the use of discounts as an incentive for customer acquisition, as he believes it diminishes the brand's perceived value and profitability. According to Ryan, "It's a terrible brand practice. Customers who receive a discount before experiencing the brand now expect a discount every time they make a purchase." Essentially, offering discounts creates an expectation among customers for future discounts, which can undermine the core value of the brand.

That's why Jolie has never offered discounts, even during popular sale events like Black Friday. It is part of their strategy to maintain the brand's premium image and profit margins. In Ryan's words, "People know we're special, and they are willing to pay a fair price because they see us as the best filtering shower in the world, which we believe we are."

💡 This is supported by research: Ryan's viewpoint on discounting is not just based on gut feeling. The negative long-term impact of excessive discounting is a well-documented phenomenon. While discounts can generate immediate sales and help clear inventory, they can also shift customer behavior over the long term. This doesn’t mean that you should never run discounts, but be wary of excessive and frequent discounting. The discounted price can become the anchor price for customers, who then perceive it as the true value of the product and refuse to purchase at the regular price. This happens all the time. Many apps I subscribe to send me a 60% discount every month for various reasons. Since I've noticed this pattern, I will never purchase them at the regular price because I know I can simply wait a week or two for a significant price reduction.

Be intentional with your unit economics

We have discussed the importance of an omnichannel distribution strategy in previous episodes of Founder Secrets. When your product is available everywhere your customers shop, they are more likely to choose your brand over others. This is why Robert Woodruff, the former president of Coca-Cola, promised to put Coke's products "within an arm's reach of desire." We have also observed that all the DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) brands launched a decade ago eventually adopted an omnichannel strategy.

One aspect we have not yet analyzed is the need for careful consideration of unit economics when adopting an omnichannel strategy. Ryan explains, "Most first-time founders determine a price based on what existing brands are charging. They focus on pricing strategy without considering their margin profile." Part of it is due to a flawed assumption that being primarily a DTC business allows for lower prices due to higher direct margins.

However, while you may start as a DTC brand, you will soon realize that retail distribution is crucial for growth. Therefore, it is important to have a robust margin that accommodates wholesale opportunities from the beginning. Ryan emphasizes, "You should aim for a margin that is strong enough to support an omnichannel business. If that means your price is higher than the competition, so be it."


To conclude, Ryan shared his personal perspective on balancing work and life, particularly emphasizing the importance of prioritizing well-being while running a business. He said, "I'm fortunate that I get to prioritize my family because I have a fantastic co-founder and a team that can operate with minimal input from me. And that was by design, sort of how I wanted to set up this business. But I appreciate how hard it is to launch a business and how much time needs to be dedicated to make it work. At the same time, my advice is to always find time for yourself. You have to invest in your own personal well-being, both mentally and physically, or else you won't be the best founder you can be." If you want to follow along, Ryan often writes about his journey growing Jolie on LinkedIn.