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Combined Strategies Move the Needle with Nish Samantray - Honest Ecommerce Ep. 193

Nish Samantray is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Arrae, a wellness brand that creates all natural solutions for your wellbeing. 

Samantray led Arrae to achieving $1M in sales during their first year and a projected revenue of over $10M last year. 

He has a formal education in engineering and strong background in entrepreneurship, sports and volunteerism. 

Before launching Arrae in 2019, Samantray was a Principal Product Manager at Paytm, Lead Product Manager at Freshii, and Technical Product Manager at Scotiabank. 

He is a creative, big picture thinker, energized by new challenges, devoted to analytical investigation and structured thinking as a foundation for unbridled creativity. 

In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [01:15] What are Arrae products?
  • [01:33] How the idea of Arrae came up
  • [03:13] From idea to a product
  • [05:42] How Arrae found their customer
  • [07:29] Knowing the branding before launching
  • [08:57] Arrae’s Go-to-market strategy
  • [10:30] Why Nish decided to focus on just one channel
  • [11:45] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
  • [12:05] Sponsor: Mesa apps.shopify.com/mesa
  • [12:53] Sponsor: Loop loopreturns.com/honest
  • [13:46] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [14:34] How much was Arrae gifting to influencers
  • [14:56] Why Nish decided to commit to influencers
  • [16:43] Did Arrae change its strategy after its success?
  • [18:39] Arrae’s scaling phase strategies
  • [20:24] Customer service and sales
  • [21:29] Using data to your advantage
  • [22:46] Arrae’s marketing mix
  • [24:16] The marketing strats need to work together
  • [25:25] Nish’s thoughts on last touch attribution
  • [26:30] Things going wrong is a sign of success
  • [27:28] Building a business is always difficult
  • [28:14] Where to find Arrae

Resources:

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 Transcript:

Chase Clymer  

Hey listeners before we get started if you're enjoying these episodes, you can actually check them out on YouTube in full video, you can just search honesty, commerce and you'll get pulled right to our channel. Make sure you subscribe and ring the bell for all the updates.

Nish Samantray  

Building this business is never gonna get easy. It's always gonna be really difficult. And so just maintaining happiness throughout the entire process is very, very important.

Chase Clymer  

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating  real results. 

I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business.

Let's get on with the show.

Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer and today we're walking to show an awesome, awesome founder. Nish is joining us from Arrae

He is the co-founder and co-creator. He heads up the brand's influencer marketing tech and operational programs alongside his wife, Siff. Welcome to the show, Nish.

Nish Samantray  

So excited to be here, Chase. Thank you for having me.

Chase Clymer  

Oh yeah. We were having a blast in the pre-show so I'm sure this is gonna be a good one for the listeners. So for the uninformed, just quickly, what's the product? What are we talking about? What's the brand you started?

Nish Samantray  

We're talking about 100% natural supplements. We have 2 products right now for bloating and anxiety. But 100% natural supplements that work in under an hour, that's our brand.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Alright. Well take me back in time. Where did this idea come from? What was going on in your life? How [did] this pop in your head? What was the ideation like?

Nish Samantray  

So honestly, my wife had a chronic cough which fractured her rib. And it was so bad. Yeah, it was a terrible story. She was just coughing, coughing, and had a hairline fracture in her rib. And when she went to the doctor, they prescribed her codeine. 

And that was a situation where it was like, "Okay, let's go and find a better way to be able to solve more everyday problems." And so we were experimenting with all kinds of things for natural supplements and vitamins, minerals, and herbs. 

And we were really able to figure out how to solve things like better immunity, better digestion, better anxiety, whatever those things might be. 

And so essentially, we were experimenting, and the kitchen of ours started looking like this massive apothecary, because there were so many supplements. And my wife said she was going absolutely nuts with all of his experimentation. 

And one day we were traveling, and I almost started falling sick. And I was like, "Okay, well give me some of the stuff that you have." I was like, "Oh, wow, this really, really works." And so what's really interesting is... 

So Siff comes from a beauty space and I come from a technology space. And so we come from these different worlds. 

But we always wanted to work together and say, "Okay, what is an idea that would work well together?" 

And it happened that we were both pretty well acquainted with the beauty space, where all the products that we would see in the beauty space would be, you know, formed by a dermatologist, and they would be really efficacious. 

And we know that they would work under an hour, because you could actually see the effects of them. And also, they were really pretty, so you could integrate them into your routine. 

And that was just not the case in the wellness world. And so we set out to bring those attributes to the wellness world. And that's how Arrae was born.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. That's a fantastic story. So how long from the ideation of "We're going to start this brand. We're doing this." you've made the choice until you actually had a sample in your hands? 

Nish Samantray  

Yeah. So it actually took about a year and a half to almost two years? Because the hardest part initially was how do we even build this product out and what do we want to be in it? And so a huge part of that is just the science behind it. 

And so one of the things we had to do is do a bunch of research on who you're working with, and the kind of ingredients you want to use, suppliers and manufacturers that we wanted to work with... 

And so we went down this really big rabbit hole to find the right people to work with. Because one of the things is that it's actually really easy to create supplements these days. 

It's really hard to create ones that actually work and it's really hard to find people who have the scientific background and knowledge to be able to want to work with you to be able to build that. 

And so we got really lucky because we found someone who is an expert in eating disorders and mental health issues. And she owns a clinic here in Toronto, which specifically deals with those problems and it was really, really intense versions of these problems. 

And so we work with that person, Dr. Natalie Mulligan, to come up with... "Okay, let's come up with a really efficacious [method] that you use with your patients where we can kind of extrapolate that for the everyday person." That's number one. 

The second thing is we have to go out and really work with the right people to make sure that we're sourcing the right type of ingredients. We're making sure that everything's organic, we're making sure that all those things just work really well together.  

We did that portion of it on the product development side, but also there was the portion of this which was "Okay, let's go and gather the money to be able to go to manufacturing, meet those MOQ’s, go with the branding and design all this kind of stuff." 

And so based on our story, one of the most important things was making sure that the branding was really on point. And so we had to work... We wanted to work with someone who really knew what they're doing so we had to allocate some budget for that. 

So essentially, me and Siff, we used up all of our wedding money into the business instead of having a wedding. That's how we paid for all this kind of stuff. And also, on top of that, we were both working full time jobs. 

So I was working my tech job and  Siff was working on her influencer/editor stuff. And we were just taking everything we could and putting it into business. And it was about a year when we... 

A year into the business that we finally quit. So we quit after we hit a million dollars in revenue. That's when we quit our full-time jobs. But yeah.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. A lot of stuff I want to unpack there. So you say that it's never been easier to start or to create a supplement. 

And I would say, "Sure, I'll agree with that." But I would say that, just because you can create a product doesn't mean that you have a market for it. So talk to me about how you found your customers?

Nish Samantray  

For sure. So I'm a huge fan of the concept of 1000 true fans by Kevin Kelly. It is something that I was kind of listening to through the Tim Ferriss podcast, and it really stuck with me. So essentially, what we're really trying to do is make 100 or even 1000 people just really, really happy. And that's how we set out thinking about it. 

So we said, "What is a problem that 100 people really kind of deeply suffer from and they would miss this if they didn't have the product and then started using it?" And so we were thinking of "Okay, what are these different problems? And what can we build that people really just need, because it's a necessity in their lives?" 

And so it came to us. And we obviously did a bunch of research talking to a lot of people and digestive issues is one of them. But more specifically, bloating is a really big one. And there's a bunch of other issues that are bloating and digestive issues was... It was a really big one. 

Especially we started the company in March of 2019, literally when the pandemic started. And so when that happened, everybody was bloated and everybody was anxious. 

And so we just said, "Okay, why don't we go and create something for that group of people?" And we also just know that it's a larger group than when it was in the midst of COVID. 

And so we set out with a very small, specific audience in mind and built a product around that we knew would scale in the future but it was really about a very small group first?

Chase Clymer  

Did you have your branding done at that point and any of the initial concepts of what types of product line you wanted to be in and then you were just looking for a very specific problem to solve?

Nish Samantray  

Yeah. We knew the branding before we actually even launched the product. So the name Arrae, as an example, comes from software development. So I'm a software engineer by trade, I guess. 

And so an array is a data set, which holds a bunch of different data in there. And so what we wanted to do was "Okay, Arrae is going to be something that solves a multitude of different problems. It's something that we can use in our branding, so that when we grow, the company is going to grow because we can solve a multitude of different kinds of problems." That's where the ideology came from. 

So all those things were really well thought out. And we specifically thought of the name we specifically thought about, how we name our products as an example. 

And so all those things were thought out first, and then we came up with, "Okay, here's a product that we want to actually create." 

But the brand, the colors, the market that we wanted to go after, who we're going to target, what they... Writing out the customer avatar was one of the very, very first things we did. We knew... 

We set out a clock where we looked at their entire day and said, "What does this person do every hour of the day? And how do we integrate ourselves into their day, at different parts of the day?" 

And that always informs who they are, what they do, where we fit in. But that's how we kind of started the process.

Chase Clymer  

You're just sharing so much awesome stuff here. Alright, so we've got a product, we've got a target market. And so what's the go-to-market strategy? How were you trying to get those initial sales on what I'm assuming is a Shopify store?

Nish Samantray  

Yeah, absolutely. So initially, honestly, it was just finding the one distribution channel that would work really well for us and going from there. 

Now, me and Siff have an unfair advantage here where we have worked with a lot of different channels already. 

So I actually built out like an ads platform in my old company so I knew exactly how the ads work. And Siff knew exactly how influencer marketing worked. 

So what we really wanted to do was say, "Okay, let's focus all of our energy because only the two of us on this one distribution channel and scale that as much as we can." For that... For us, that was actually influencer marketing. 

So we knew a lot of influencers that we trusted. We also knew just a lot of people in this space who suffer from this program... Sorry. From this problem. And so we went out and we were gifting super heavily. And that's all we did. 

We just gifted really heavily, leveraged all of our contacts and tried to get this into as many people's hands as possible. 

And we did a really good job at  just getting this into the hands of the right influencers, which blew us up. 

So we went from zero to a million dollars in the first year just by that revenue channel. 

Chase Clymer  

Alright. You're again, just doing my job for me. Love it. Alright. So you... I need to highlight it here. 

You said you put all of your effort into one marketing channel and scaled it as far as you could before going in the other ones, right? 

Nish Samantray  

Exactly. 

Chase Clymer  

And so let's just for the audience, again, why did you only focus on one?

Nish Samantray  

So there's this thing that I love saying is that while you can do anything you want, you can't do everything you want. 

And you have to be so mindful of where you're putting your energy, especially in the early days, because it's just very limited time and output. And all you care about is honestly my opinion is output. 

So "What is the most I can do to get me what is most important to me?" And for us at that point, it was just, we want as many people who are in our realm of the target audience to buy this product and even have an experience for this product. 

And the best way for us to do that is by going through influencers. Why? We know how to do it, and we have the time and capabilities to be able to do so. 

Now, if you look at something like advertising as an example, it's actually hard to do that. Because you need a design team, you need to know how to work on ads, and you have to know how to copyright... 

Chase Clymer  

You need data to play with. 

Nish Samantray  

Exactly. Exactly. And so it's actually more complex than what we were good at as an example. 

So that's what we did, focus all of our energy on it, and it just paid so many multiples. It was a really good decision.

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Chase Clymer  

Okay, so you didn't just send one product out to Kim Kardashian and get a million dollars. Can you share with us how many product samples you actually sent out or just like a rough ballpark?

Nish Samantray  

Yeah, it was... We were gifting about 100 per month initially. And we were gifting very...

Chase Clymer  

And this is just completely free, paying for shipping, all that. Right? And nothing asked in return?

Nish Samantray  

Literally zero. And so here's the most important thing we... We know the way certain influences work and our whole goal was just like, really, honestly, we created something for ourselves. 

We have a story that was super genuine. And we just don't want other people to feel the way that we were feeling. 

And we want people to be able to enjoy their pizza, we want people to be less anxious. We just want to help people as much as possible. And so that is what we would do. 

We would put that story on a piece of paper, we would write it down of why we created the company, we would package it up really, really nicely. And we would ship every single product out. 

Now, I think the cost of shipping every product was around $20, when you take into account the shipping, the packaging of the product, whatever, $20 to $25. But that's okay, I guess this is what it took. 

And so we were looking at, what, $25 times by 100 per month minimum. And so... And it's actually not that much money when you think about it, but it was just really, really important for us to do that. And so we would do that. 

And what is important here is to expect nothing in return. Because we believe so much in the product, we believe so much in the problem that our whole idea was that if somebody tries this, they're going to fall in love with it. 

And if they don't, we don't really want that person to be talking about their product anyway. And so it was about gifting, expecting nothing in return, and we would actually write that in our content. 

We say "We actually don't expect anything in return, just try it for yourself, because we've done research on you and we know you struggle with digestive issues, just try it out for yourself." And we did it enough. 

And by the way, our hit rate in terms of people who actually share was not really high. Out of 100 people, maybe 5 to 10 people that actually share. But that's all you needed. 

Because those 5 to 10 people were so gung ho about our product and our mission, that they would really stay what we were thinking, and that led to one after another growing really quickly.

Chase Clymer  

All right, that's amazing. So this influencer gifting strategy took you $2 million. And by the way, I need to thank you for being so transparent about these numbers. It's rare at times in these conversations. 

So I thank you for that because I know our listeners really enjoy it. So this is the same strategy that took you to a million. Did that same strategy help you get from 1 to 10? Or did things change?

Nish Samantray  

No things change very drastically, I actually think that things change so drastically I wouldn't even understand. So it's really interesting. But every channel changes so much at these certain kinds of milestones. 

And by the way, that zero to one, you don't have to go influencer. In fact, I would say that it's probably not very successful for most people to go influencer from zero to one because most people don't know how to execute on it properly. 

It's really easy to go from zero to one with advertising. It's really easy to go... It's easier to go zero to one with retailing as an example. 

But what happened with us is that every single distribution channel has diminishing returns after a certain point, unless you actually have a very different strategic shift. 

So as you as you look at this for us, it was for us initially, it was just gifting after that, it actually became "Okay, well gifting is not really working anymore, we have to switch to maybe something like using an affiliate program or using paid influencers as an example, or working with really, really large influencers." 

So these are all different strategies that we have to shift because we could just see that it was not returning anywhere near doing it. 

If you continue on that road, we would barely even make 10% of what we made in our first year, just by continuing the same strategy that may just didn't work. And so we have to go from the one to 10, we had to add some distribution channels on there. 

So for us, we definitely lean into paid advertising is one of them. And the last one is just email and SMS. So those 3 are such powerful tools, just to really, really help grow that revenue numbers. That is what took us to that next mark. But yeah

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. So when I think about direct-to-consumer businesses and the phases of their business. I think that  from zero to $1 million is like you're a startup. You're finding product market fit and your goals there are just to sell the thing, hone your message, hone your offer. 

And I think that a lot of people want to jump into paid ads too early, but they don't have as much data as they should really to do it efficiently. 

They don't have much talent with doing influencer, stuff like that. And I just think that zero to one is the hardest. 

But then your challenges from going to $1 [million] to $10 million dollars, I would call this phase like the "scaling phase". 

Now you're getting systems in place and you're correcting the things that are broke, because you've gotten to such a scale that this duct tape solution that you had before isn't gonna work anymore.

Let's talk a bit more about that scaling phase.

Nish Samantray  

So when it comes to that, I think that certain things are really important to have as a foundation. So how good is your team? Are you... Do you have the right people in customer support? Do you have the right people in operations? Do you have the right people in marketing? 

Something that I notice a lot of people do is go really heavy in the marketing but don't have their operations or CS teams or even data teams in place. And so for us when I think of the sequence of events, one of the things... 

Obviously we had the marketing team that's really strong. Really strong 2 people in the marketing team. 

But the ops team became bigger than the marketing team. And that became bigger because we were looking at how to set up proper fulfillment channels, we're looking at creating a really good opening experience, we're working with the right partners for that. 

We're looking at creating really strong customer service. Because I actually think in the early days, customer service is like a retention channel for most people and just being so quick about it. 

There was a study done where, like, if you go and reply to a customer, within 10 minutes, they will buy from you again even if they're really upset. 

And so I actually sat there and was replying to emails as quickly as I possibly could. And that helped us build really authentic relationships with a bunch of people. 

And so customer support was really important. So customer support operations, and all that fulfillment stuff, we had to get in together first, because if you have a product that's winning, then you're going to scale a lot faster than you think you are. 

And running out of product is truly a very stressful experience. We ran out of product 4 times in our first year of business. And it was brutal. Customers got upset. 

They never wanted to buy from you again. It was really, really hard. And so just making sure that all that stuff was set up is really important. And then actually what happens... 

And this actually even happens at the $3 million mark, where you actually now have enough data to really be analyzing that stuff properly. And so what we do now is we obviously use a bunch of apps. We use apps like Lifetimely to look at core data, LTV data. 

We use a bunch of stuff to look at retention data from our subscriptions and whatnot. And so we have a bunch of really good metrics on that side. 

But we also actually work with an external data person who pulls raw data to be able to interpret in different ways and to give you information. 

So for example, if you have a bunch of different products, "Okay, who is buying what product with what and at what point in their lifetime journey? How can we bundle those together? How do we do post sales? How do we do upsells? How do you cross sells? How do you tie in your email strategy with your ad strategy with your upsell, cross sell strategy?" 

So actually getting the data piece correct is really important after the first 2 are done. And so all these things really evolved. And a part of it just becomes having the right people looking at all these things holistically. 

And your job as a founder is to make sure that you have these systems and teams in place so that when you're scaling to the $10 million mark, all these people know what they're doing, because otherwise you're not going to be able to scale.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. You got to get the right people in the right seats on your bus or... You can't do it all yourself. 

Nish Samantray  

Yeah, for sure. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So what would you say these days would be attributed to social media advertising versus the influencer? It was influencer marketing, I guess, that got you off the ground.

Nish Samantray  

Yeah. I really think that they played different roles. I think that influencer marketing is a great way to start off. And it's a great way to get some traction, build a good brand and get some early sales. 

I wouldn't say that it necessarily moves the needle after that $1 million mark thing. But it definitely is really important to build a strong brand. 

So we actually spend about 10% to 15% of our budget, just on brand marketing with influencers. 

It just really helps us work with people that we want to work with who are in the right mindset and are continuously pushing our brand to keep it top of mind with a lot of our target market and that we expect nothing in return from them but we're always kind of pushing budget tourism and are working. It's working really well. 

Now for direct revenue, that's where we spend a lot of money on this advertising, like digital media advertising. It is probably our... 

It's our second most profitable channel, our most profitable channel is email. And so we have a very complex kind of email flow and funnel set up. 

But we leverage a lot of obviously paid ads, we also do a lot of email marketing. And then we have a lot of brands and influencer things. 

And it's a combination of those that really help move the needle, but it's not  one of them by themselves.

Chase Clymer  

With that, all of the pieces are working collectively so you wouldn't say that one outshines the other. You need all the pieces in place.

Nish Samantray  

Yeah, you really need all the pieces in place. If I turned off one of those channels, I will see a really significant dip in revenue tomorrow, if I did that. So it's... I think that you really want... Because I feel like one of the things... 

For example, influencers and brand, it just builds your audience. So people hear about you, they're thinking about you, to maybe looking you up on Google. Then on the paid side of things, you're looking at the traffic and you'll be able to target them. 

And you can get really granular "Okay. Who's buying our product? Who's looking at buying this?" Having those setup so you can collect those sales on that end. 

On the email side, that does such a great job of remarketing to your existing audiences or converting people who are interested in you but never bought from you. You could have a strategy there. 

So they all work in a different part of the flow. And altogether is where they work really, really well, because you want to build an audience and you want to sell to them, then you want to make sure they're engaged. 

So they all help on different parts of the flow, but it's definitely not one or the other. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. So I guess I already know your answer to this. But I'm gonna ask in a very blunt way. If you are looking at your analytics reports, with just last touch attribution, that would just be a terrible insight. 

Nish Samantray  

Yeah, I think last touch attribution... Honestly, we only look at it, just to know which platform on advertising is working really well. 

And so that's for us to get really sophisticated on how we spend on our advertising as an example, because attribution these days is just so horrible that we try to get as granular as possible. 

So for everybody out there, we use Triple Whale. And it's very helpful for us just to look at attribution on different platforms. But is it... 

I wouldn't say it's garbage. It's just a metric in the big scheme of things. It's not like my...

Chase Clymer  

Yeah.

Nish Samantray  

...be all end all by any means.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. And that's the thing about the metrics in general is they all work together. One doesn't matter on its own, really, because there's so much more that goes into it. Also, we're huge fans of Triple Whale, over here. They're from Columbus, where we're from. 

Nish Samantray  

Amazing. 

Chase Clymer  

They're great. They're great. And I think I had a bonus episode came out with them. By the time this one comes out probably 20 episodes, you can find this episode. (laughs)

Nish Samantray  

That's awesome.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Nish, now, is there anything I forgot to ask you about today that you think would resonate with our audience?

Nish Samantray  

Man, there's so many things. I think that one of the most awesome indicators of success is actually when things are going a little bit wrong. So when things go wrong, it's really interesting, because they're going wrong for a reason. 

And it might be because you're going too quickly, or there's problems arising because things are moving forward. And so when things are moving forward, and you never done them before some problems arise. 

And so when problems arise, you should be excited because you get to solve something that wasn't there before. 

So as an example we got a cease and desist letter, because we were shipping things out of our home. And our apartment was like, "What are you guys running a massive business out of your apartment building?" Which is totally illegal? 

And so, you know, if I think back a year and a half ago, I was so stressed out, because I was like, "Oh my god,  how am I going to ship these products to our people?" 

But it forces you to go to a fulfillment center to figure things out. I can think of 10 other problems that we've experienced. But it's been really, I think that's a good indicator. That's a bad one, there's a mind shift change. 

And the last one is just for me, I think that building this business is never gonna get easy, it's always going to be really difficult. 

And so just maintaining happiness throughout the entire process is very, very important because it's so easy to get stressed out, especially when Facebook stops working or like your revenues are down or something's going wrong or the other. 

I think that these things happen a lot and just understanding is part of the ride and just truly enjoying the process. Because you love what you're doing. You love everything about the business, you love serving the customers. 

I think that having that positivity all the time is really important or it just gets really stressful for the wrong reasons. And it's bound to be stressful all the time. So that's something I learned recently. So I think it's those2 things are really important. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, it's about the journey, not the destination, right.

Nish Samantray  

100%.

Chase Clymer  

Speaking of destinations, we have made it to the end of the podcast. Man, that was the best transition I've ever done. (laughs) 

So for people that are curious about the product, where should they go to check it out?

Nish Samantray  

You can check it out at arrae.com or arrae.co on Instagram and Tiktok.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Nish Samantray  

Thank you, Chase. It was so much fun. Thank you so much. 

Chase Clymer  

Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us. 

We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes. 

Make sure you head over to honestecommerce.co to check out all the other amazing content that we have. Make sure you subscribe, leave a review. 

And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.