On today’s show, I have my great friend Orion Melehan of LIFEAID. Orion serves as the CEO and Founder of LIFEAID. In this show, he talks about his inspiration for being an entrepreneur, he talks about his side of what it was like to create the LifeAID brand and how house music has shaped his life forever. A really amazing entrepreneurial story.
Orion had a lot of insights here from a business and entrepreneur perspective, as well as an artist from being a DJ and a musician in his earlier life. Really love him and I adore his insights, I hope you do as well.
Enjoy the show,
Orion Melehan is the co-founder and CEO of LIFEAID Beverage Company, a fast-growing producer of functional beverages. A beverage outsider with a big idea, Orion borrowed $30,000 from his 401(k) to fund LIFEAID with his friend and co-founder Dr. Aaron Hinde in 2011 – while the economy was still in crisis. In the eight years since, the two have grown LIFEAID into an international brand using an unconventional route-to-market – selling to non-traditional accounts and leveraging ecommerce via digital marketing. Their products are now sold in tens of thousands of retailers including Whole Foods, Walmart, CVS, Kroger, Safeway, 7-11 with distribution to over 22 countries. They have 500,000+ engaged social media followers, and have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, San Jose Mercury News and BevNet. Today LIFEAID is a rising star in the better-for-you food and beverage industry, making the Inc 5000 fastest growing companies in America three years in a row. Ask Orion and he’ll tell you that LIFEAID will continue to disrupt traditional sports and energy drink segments with their brand of lifestyle oriented functional products.
Orion and his family live in the mountains of Santa Cruz, CA where he was also born and raised. He believes that the Santa Cruz free thinking lifestyle and wealth of outdoor recreational activities continues to be part of the fabric of the company. Orion graduated from UC Santa Barbara and prior to launching LIFEAID had his own practice as a Certified Financial Planner®. In his personal time, he enjoys Djing, traveling, gardening, personal development, CrossFit® and golf.
Angelo: Orion my brother, how are you?
Orion: How are you doing Angelo? Thanks for having me on here.
Angelo: Irion this is my pleasure. It’s been a long time coming. I think I asked you to be on the show months ago, so I’m so excited that you are here.
Orion: I’m excited to be here too. You caught me on the road for business. I’m in Phoenix, Arizona, and it’s a perfectly sunny sky, I know it’s not sunny everywhere around the country, so I have a nice view behind me.
Angelo: Awesome. It is looking nice for me and my eyes only basically, but it is nice. Orion, if you guys aren’t familiar with the brand LifeAID, he is the CEO and Founder of LifeAID, and Aaron Hinde who’s actually been on the show in the earlier episodes is his partner so you might have a little idea about his company and things like that. I really wanted Orion to be on the show today honestly because I find Orion to be one of the most intriguing people that I have ever met. Orion and I actually met in 2016 at Master Mind, at the [inaudible 00:02:12] Mastermind, and that was the first day. Then me and you connected and we stayed up and had a couple of drinks of wine at the bar that first initial night.
Orion: Sounds about right.
Angelo: That was perfect. I’ve been watching you from a far and obviously too we get to spend more time together through CrossFit events and other social gatherings. My hope is that this world really gets to appreciate the genius that I see every time I talk to you.
Orion: Well, genius is a pretty strong word there Angelo, but I appreciate your observations and I’ve appreciated cultivating friendship which continues to grow and prosper the way I see it. I’m happy to be here with you today and share our journey to build a force in the beverage world.
Angelo: Absolutely. Before we get into LifeAID take us back a little bit more. You grew up in Santa Cruz, what were you like as a kid?
Orion: Fun fact: I came from a family of entrepreneurs, and my dad in the 80s built what was an institution in Santa Cruz County, Special Effects Arcade. I grew up playing video games; not like the gamers these days where they are staying up till 4:00 in the morning, but actually in an arcade socializing and doing that through video games, of course getting unlimited free tokens didn’t hurt. I was kind of popular with my friends because of the perks of being the son of a video game operator.
Angelo: That’s awesome. You dad had this video arcade, you would go there, you said you were popular with the kids, were you really sociable?
Orion: I said that somewhat jokingly actually. I think out journey is similar growing up. First of all, I never really was in team sports, so I grew up an equestrian. My mom used to take me and I used to actually jump thoroughbreds and took quite a lot of rhythms and did that for about six years. I grew up in stables with horses which not a lot of modern men I should say have that same shared experience. Unfortunately, I quit when I was 16 and went over to paint ball because that was kind of cool as a 16 year old. Had I stuck with it I would have had—let’s just say I was probably one of the only straight men that were riding horses at the time. There was a lot of very attractive females all around me, I should have stuck with it.
Angelo: That’s cool, I didn’t know that.
Orion: My parents for whatever reason they were never really big into physical fitness and so as a teenager I actually got to be up to about 250 pounds. Weight struggle ensued from that, so I wasn’t the most popular kid. I had a good network of friends but I wasn’t the most popular kid in high school. By the way, I went to an all-boys catholic school. My parents wanted to torment me that way, which is actually not in Santa Cruz, called Bellarmine in Santa Clara.
Angelo: I went to a boy’s high school too. It’s so funny you say that.
Orion: There is a lot of parallels there. I was sociable but I wasn’t a social butterfly. I didn’t really come into my own with lifelong friendships until college when I went to UC Santa Barbara and I shed 70 pounds at that time in college. I’m friends with a lot of those people, in fact we just celebrated our unofficial 20 year college reunion a couple of weeks ago down in Santa Barbara.
Angelo: That’s awesome. 70 pounds; what event happened or what kind of shift did you have when you went to college that made you want to lose that weight?
Orion: I went to Japan as an intern for a couple of months, and in Japan, since I didn’t have many friends I really focused on getting fit and healthy, and that put me on the right trajectory. Then when I got back I got a lot of comments, “wow, you dropped a lot of weight”, and maybe I dropped 20 pounds at that time. I continued to work out after I got back from Japan- that was my junior year in college. Then I got into what we can get into- something that’s been a part of my life for 25 plus years—I got into Techno or house music. I would literally spend all night dancing every single weekend down in LA. I got in great shape from dancing, believe it or not, and so that’s when I ultimately shed up to 70 pounds.
That was a trip, I was never a lady’s man up until that point, but then when that shift happened people treated me in a whole different way; chicks treated me a whole different way. I saw through the façade of it all because I had been on one side overweight and then on another side in good shape and attractive. That always stuck with me; who was treating me authentically back then, who is treating me authentically now. That was a great experience, and that’s one of the reasons I have such an affinity for house music.
Angelo: That’s incredible. So, go to Japan, lose some weight, start dancing, lose even more weight. It’s funny too because I’ve lost 100 pounds in my life, and you see the other side of what life looks like and who actually notices you when you lose that kind of weight. It could be a little superficial, you could say. Now you fell in love with music, and this was one of the first things that I found out about you and adored that you were a deejay and you loved music. What was your first experience of listening to house music, and how did it all get into your life?
Orion: I got back from Japan and my friend took me to this party deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where we actually went to a party a few weeks back there Angelo. I just fell in love with the music, and from that point it really just changed my life. It was so underground at that time and it was the mid-90s and these underground parties, these raves were happening back then. I found my tribe with those people, I really connected with those people, I connected with the music and I could tell—that was a time before electronic music was even in commercials, it wasn’t being celebrated in any of the music award ceremonies.
I just knew that music was going to be transformative as it was transformative to me. It would be transformative globally. Today what they call now, what we used to call techno or house now is known as EDM, is the most popular music in the world. I could tell I was at the very forefront of that music, and it was just exciting to me.
Angelo: Before that, did you deejay before that, or you just got into it and then it was something you picked up?
Orion: I got into it because house music I was enamored with. I had my favorite deejays and I went to these parties for about two years and I loved it so much I said, god I love it so much I need to do that. At the time it was all turn tables and there was some wheel skill involved, not that there is not these days, but everyone has training wheels behind the decks these days with everything being digital. What better way to become a really good deejay than to open a record store? That’s exactly what I did. My first business in Santa Barbara was Anomalies Records. I owned that for about a year and a half, it was kind of a deejay rave record store. I got to curate all the music, got to spend countless hours behind the decks. When they say you can master something in 10,000 hours I’ve tripled that at least with the amount of time I’ve spent behind the decks.
That was an amazing experience. I went into that business out of passion and really wanting to develop myself as an artist. I didn’t go into it because it was an incredible business opportunity, and probably spent too many hours behind the deck instead of behind the register or dialing in my marketing plan and budget. I did go out of business there but it was a tremendous experience, in fact, I have connections that have stayed with me throughout my life in music from that. In fact, from that time I met my then girlfriend but now wife of 20 years, the beautiful Edlena Melehan. I had a lot of amazing connections in the music world. In fact, after the record store closed I pursued a career as a professional deejay and had a go at it for about two years, and in fact, was flown over to England and played clubs over there and made more musical connections there.
How I ordered my records after I got all those connections is I literally would wake up at 6:00am during the weekday and call a record store over in London and they would know exactly what sound I wanted and they would just play the record in a headphone and I would listen, and I would just say yay or nay on the records. Literally for a decade that’s how I got records and that was all from owning that record store and making those connections. I remember the day, I think it was in 2009 I cried out loud because my record store over there [inaudible 00:13:21] stopped carrying vinyl, and that was a pretty traumatic day in my life.
Angelo: That’s awesome. It’s such an interesting story. You are deejaying, what’s your work life or school life like, are you all focused on music? The majority of it might be.
Orion: I was smart enough to skate by in college, I kind of bifurcated my time between music, having a store—by the way I took a hiatus from school for a year, so I was on the 5-year plan at Santa Barbara, I wasn’t the only one, I could promise you that. It was an amazing school. I split my time between school and deejaying, but with more focus on deejaying at that time.
Angelo: Now, your father was an entrepreneur, how did he feel about you being an entrepreneur?
Orion: My father has always supported my entrepreneurial journey, in fact, what really got me thinking of the possibilities of myself as an entrepreneur is that my father’s grandfather was a poor Italian immigrant, and he had a vision for dried fruits, and during World War II really got some traction selling the military dried fruit and then co-packing and built a company- it’s no longer there today, but built a company in Santa Clara Valley which is old world economy, back then there was no Silicon Valley, it was all orchards.
He built a 500-person company there, I think they were turning over 100 million dollars a year in the 80s selling dried fruits. Then he owned some of the most valuable real estate in the world just by damn luck, having Silicon Valley. That experience seeing the fruits of his labor- that set me on my own path to wanting that in my life. I do come from a lineage of entrepreneurs, the most successful being my great grandfather.
Angelo: Okay. Did the fact that your dad, not follow that make you to do your own thing?
Orion: Great question because his siblings were all involved in the business. My dad is different than his siblings in that way, he didn’t want anything to do with the business. He just wanted to be president of Mayfair and he saw this whole exciting thing, I’ll equate it to my fascination with house music and raves, and that being the forefront of that. He was at the forefront of video games and that was transformational in the 80s. I give my dad a lot of respect for supporting that trend and wanting to go off and do his own thing and make his own money. I’m sure that had a lot to do with me wanting to create my own thing and the money would follow.
Angelo: Yeah, that’s incredible. Kudos to your dad, that takes a lot of courage I’m sure.
Orion: He knew when to jettison the business at the right time. The game consuls, at home game consuls, he was never threatened with those consuls because he knew people wanted to compete against each other essentially and the arcade was a format that allowed people to compete and play against each other especially games like Street Fighter. Right when the internet started to emerge and the connectivity of the internet he saw the future that there would be no more need for people to connect inside an arcade, they can connect online. Right when he sported that trend he sold both his arcades at the exact peak and the right time.
Angelo: Oh man, that’s incredible- very cool. So you come from good stock.
Orion: I guess you could say that, yeah.
Angelo: That’s incredible. Now you are doing music, when did you start “your real career” or your financial career? When did that pick up for you?
Orion: I was working, my first real job out of college I was working a shit job in collections. I don’t wish that on anyone. Actually, I do have an employee that does collection—to lovely Marty, I hope you didn’t hear that. I’m with my wife and we get married in 2002 and then we are going to have a baby. That really caused me to focus on me wanting to be successful. I was kind of lost in the music. I wasn’t making enough money deejaying. Knowing what I know now about sales and marketing I can be a pretty successful deejay I’m pretty sure about that. Maybe my next second career, that’s my retirement plan, but we’ll get into that. Having a kid, I remember wanting to go down a path of a career, professional career and it was going to be in the finances.
Literally talk about commitment- I bought a home, back then you could do a ninja loan, like who would give someone that’s not making any income as a financial adviser that works from self a mortgage? But I got a mortgage, had a child and had a new career all in the same weekend. I made that career back in, that was in 2004 to be a financial adviser. I had my own practice. I ate only what I killed. I worked with my friend’s dad, you’ve met Mark [inaudible 00:20:00] he owns our marketing company actually.
It’s very incestuous by the way, all of the people in my life that are still involved with LifeAID somehow. He said, “Well, I’m going to keep you hungry, I’m going to cover your medical insurance for the first six months, I’m not going to pay you a dime. Here’s the book, start dialing for dollars kid”, that type deal. I actually had to really learn on the job and do essentially financial adviser’s consultative selling, just the business side of it. I got pretty good at that, I became a certified financial planner so I continued my education. I was a pretty good financial adviser. My client, the most any portfolio was done at the heart of 2008 the stock market crash, there was about 25%, and I took that time to really double down and invest in some good assets. I made it through 2008.
By the way, at that time I moved the family back up to Santa Cruz. I was living in southern California but I had a five year plan, I said, when my daughter turns five I need to get out of here, I don’t want freeways and traffic to run my life. I didn’t really have pride of where I lived in Southern California, I wanted to get back to Santa Cruz, back to my family, back to the coast, back to the red woods that I loved so much as a child. So in 2008 I moved back into Santa Cruz.
Funny story there, when we moved back to Santa Cruz, I’ll never forget it: I was moving furniture into the house, we had just closed on a house up in Santa Cruz, moving furniture in I plugged the TV in and on the news is a story- they started with “Lehman Brothers is going to fail”, and then it says, “AIG is going to fail”, and by the way I worked for AIG financial adviser, so I’m moving into my new house, I’m setting up shop, going to have a practice down south and a new practice in northern California and I’m finding out that AIG might go under and I’m completely over leveraged. I own two homes and I get that news, so I had a moment of crisis there in 2008, me personally, which kind of led to me opening my mind to possibilities of how to get out this, from opening my mind to possibilities is where LifeAID actually emerged.
Angelo: During this time were you still practicing deejaying still doing music?
Orion: Only a couple times a year. I was a closet deejay for many years. I didn’t go out to clubs. I just continued to acquire music and play it at home and do small house parties, no big festivals at that time. Since I fell in love with music, since I got into deejaying, there’s never been a time where I haven’t played at least once a month, at least practice or acquired music once every couple of months. I still do that to this day. I actually play out more today than I have in the past 10 years.
Angelo: Very good. How was your relationship with Edlena during this period of getting a baby, having a baby, getting married, living in Southern California, moving back up; how was that for you guys?
Orion: I have the most amazing supportive wife that a man could ever have. Really, she’s seen my potential and has always pushed me to realize my full potential. That was the case of going into financial planning. She didn’t look forward to living in the woods, in the mountains at that time, I kind of moved the city girl to the woods, but she did support the move. All of our friends from college were down south, I totally uprooted her when we moved back home to Santa Cruz. When we lived in Southern California I was doing well enough she didn’t need to work, when we moved up to Northern California she actually had to go back to being a paralegal and working in a not so great situation. But my wife has always been supportive. When we talk about the story of the founding of LifeAID we can explore that topic a little further because she really carried us when I wasn’t making an income for literally almost two years.
She was working fulltime, and by the way, we’d just had another child, Gabriel, one year old, and my wife went back to work 50 hours a week while my parents helped raise my youngest child. That was very difficult for us, specifically her, but that’s the reason that we are here where we are today as she was able to pave for my outlandish dream of building a beverage company. Which by the way, she never questioned nearly as much as she should have, like, ‘what the fuck are you doing?’
Angelo: We are going to get to LifeAID, but let’s stop here first, how did you meet Aaron, how did that get to be for your relationship, you created that first before LifeAID?
Orion: I lost all that weight dancing, and then I slowly started gaining some of it back, never to the point of getting to 250 or anything, but I probably got to 220. I was just sitting behind a desk not active. I moved back up to Santa Cruz in 2008 and I’m seeing my old friends from high school, I’m like, holy fuck, these guys have fucking six-packs, what’s going on here? What the hell are you doing? It turns out they are all doing CrossFit. I’m like, shit, I need to get my ass back in shape. So I joined a CrossFit gym, CrossFit North Santa Cruz- that was in 2008. As you know Angelo, CrossFit is a product of Santa Cruz. So that was very early days in CrossFit.
Again, when I joined that CrossFit gym it kind of reminded me of my early rave days, like this is transformational- this is going to change the world of fitness if not the world in general. I got hooked on CrossFit at that time and I ended up meeting Aaron in a CrossFit gym. A funny back story to that is that, Aaron was a chiropractor in the town of Scotts Valley right in Santa Cruz County. I had my own financial planning practice and I used to write a financial column for the local newspaper. I wrote some column like how gold is a great insurance policy for your portfolio but it’s not an investment, it’s an asset and it’s more for insurance purposes. At that time I guess Aaron was really stockpiling gold and he saw me and was like, “what the hell is this guy writing?” and he wanted to take issue with me.
I was on his radar, he was actually on my mine because we were of the same age and we were kind of movers and shakers of that age group in our small town. Then I looked at him during a word and he looked at me and then we connected and he said, “Hey, I think I’ve read your financial columns”. I’m like, “oh, I’ve seen your sports chiropractic ads in the paper”, and we just talked from there. Apparently behind the scenes is that my daughter who was in kindergarten at the time and his daughter who was in the same grade in kindergarten were already becoming friends unbeknownst to us. That’s how I met Aaron then we continued the conversation at the Brook Knoll auction which is the auction for our kids.
This ties back to the music being good to me because after the Brook Knoll auction when we set out, somehow house music came up and Ramo was back in the scene, Aaron’s wife back in the 90s as was Aaron, so we started talking about house, and my wife said, “you know my husband is a deejay”, and they are like, “no way”, and they are like, “yeah, whatever deejay”. We went back to our house with a couple other friends and I pulled up my turn table in the living room and I played a 3-hour set, and that’s when we realized we have so much in common we are going to be best friends. That’s how I met the Hindes, how we met the Hindes.
Angelo: That’s awesome. What a great story. He even read your articles and he wanted to argue with you about the articles.
Orion: He wanted to argue, he still likes to argue with me about that.
Angelo: So you guys create this friendship, Aaron is a chiropractor, you are a financial planner; how does anybody come to the conversation about making a beverage company?
Orion: Again, at that time Aaron was doing pretty well in his chiro practice when I was over leveraged. If I had been making as much money as I was a couple years prior which is very good income where my wife didn’t have to work, my mind would be set, they would be, “why would you risk anything?” Sometimes you can be a slave to your paycheck.
0:30:18 But at that time I was going into somewhat a financial distress so my mind was open to the possibility of creating a different reality for myself. So I was just looking at things differently. Aaron had invited us up to this camp out with deejays, and we were there and we just started spit balling on ideas. We had long nights and lots of drinking and just partying. That weekend I was like, jeez, let’s create a supplement to help replenish you after you are losing all these nutrients in your body, something to replenish you and it was going to be a pill. We kind of marinated on that idea for six months.
I guess we were open to the possibility of going into business together, and then once we were open to that possibility we kind of unlocked a secret which can get into, but that is the market is missing this whole replenishment aspect. Everything is all about energy or isotonic but nothing is really providing specific nutrients. That idea was marinating for six months, and I’ll never forget this: but on my birthday the name Party Aid came to mind with AID, everyone was ADE quenching your thirst, but AID aiding your health, and from that very quickly LifeAID emerged. It was on my birthday, the name came to me and it was like, LifeAID can we do one for golf, can we do one for fitness?
So this whole big vision unveiled itself on my birthday, and how I knew it was the best secret or the most obvious and how I knew we were on to something is: it’s my birthday and we are hanging out and we just start going to get domain names and golfrey.com is available for $12, and all of these .coms anything to do with AID, some of the most ridiculous AID names by the way, most of those came from Aaron, the good ones came from me, let me promise you that. We spend like $1,000 on domain names that night. It was like, if everyone says all the good .coms are taken we’ll know that wasn’t the case, and that’s how I knew we had revealed this massive idea and opportunity. Didn’t know how we would get there yet, didn’t know how we would sequence the business properly but from that night on my birthday in 2011 I knew I had unlocked a secret and that I was going to pursue this.
The next day I made a declaration which is another important ingredient for founding anything, it’s making a declaration to friends and family and my business partner that I’m doing this fulltime, I’m not going to pay attention to my financial planning practice, I am going to pursue this idea and I’m going to execute on it. It was important to make that declaration at the time, we had almost a third business partner that was going to put in 30,000 also and at the 11th hour he backed out. Had I not made that declaration and making Aaron also make that declaration it would have been so much easier to say, you know what, that’s just ridiculous, how could we start a beverage company? Let’s [inaudible 00:34:06] this guy, get back to playing in your own sand box, what the hell do you know about beverage? That’s how it all came about and revealed itself. It was very quick once the idea struck that we were off to the races and in business.
Angelo: So you guys both let go of your “careers” at the time to pursue this?
Orion: Me first Angelo because, the nice thing about financial planning is it’s not a fee-for-service business, I had a fee-based business, so I had some income coming in. So I didn’t probably pay attention enough to that business but it was providing some income whereas Aaron needed to crack bucks to—may I say that flippantly, but crack bucks to make a living.
I was fully committed to LifeAID and he was partially committed to LifeAID but he still needed to make an income. I think it wasn’t until 2012 where I forced his hand and made him sell his practice.
Angelo: Okay. So you start this company and the first product you release is the PartyAid?
Orion: We had this big grandiose idea of LifeAID which is different drinks for different needs states, 60,000 might sound like a lot to some of your listeners, but let me tell you- it’s nothing in beverage. If you don’t have 10 million dollars, you can talk to Lance Collins and Lance has developed many beverages, he says don’t even bother starting a beverage company if you don’t have 25 million dollars. So $60,000 is not a lot of money, so how do you get your product into the market with [inaudible 00:36:02] low barrier to entry, no one is marketing a drink towards golfers, there is only garbage on the golf course, and we can create disruptive displays by putting our GolferAid fridge in the pro-shop to help build the brand. If it was stuck under ice in the beverage cart no one would know to ask for it. At very low cost how do you create that brand awareness where it was taking that fridge and putting it in a golf shop?
Within 12 months we were in over 400 courses and I think we did in 12 months about 250,000 in revenue and really took all that information and was able to raise some money from some local angel groups, just friends and family. GolferAid was the first product on the market.
Angelo: How did you get it into 400 golf courses?
Orion: We had our sales rep, trade shows. We weren’t using a lot of the automated marketing tools which we started using when we started to penetrate in CrossFit. That was knocking on doors, picking up the phone and being at the PGA Merchandise Show which by the way, we were the only drink at the PGA Merchandise Show and everyone is walking around with a can of GolferAid- it’s pretty powerful marketing. Going where no one is, finding that super niche and getting traction is the recipe for success for finding initial traction then building on that traction. That’s why we went into golf and we were proven accurate that it was a low barrier to entry.
FitAid in the CrossFit channel was a more immediate message to market match, was a more immediate need and didn’t have some of the management challenges the golf course had been. We are talking to the beverage buyer, we are talking to the GM, are we talking to the pro-shop manager, and by the way, each one of those people could always deflect a higher authority if they didn’t want to take the time to look at the product. Those dynamics weren’t in the CrossFit channel- we could get into how we transitioned over to FitAid and why we put all our attention there about a year after launching GolferAid.
Angelo: We’ll get into FitAid, and I want to know that. Let me ask you this, when you first started the business, did you know what your strength was and what Aaron’s was, did you really know that at that time?
Orion: I think we shared similar strengths. We went into business as really good friends, we didn’t go into business like I had an idea and I need to approach a master sales man which I’ve considered Aaron to be. We shared a lot of those strengths. I think we shared creativity and curiosity and those traits that every successful entrepreneur needs to continually horn. I think as the business grew then we started to focus on different aspects of the business. We were involved in all aspects of the business on day one. Finally we grew to a certain point where we had to divide and conquer, and of course my background in finances naturally would lead me over to the financial, legal operation side of the business.
Aaron’s always been a personal development guy, a sales marketing guy, so naturally the day to day sales and marketing will fall under his purview. Even today strategically, tactically we still meet regularly and talk about the business. So the o-chart might say I’m doing one thing and he’s doing one thing but we are still doing—he is still involved in some of the finances and raises, and I’m still involved in the sales and marketing. At the beginning no, it wasn’t like, you strength is here and my strength is here we are going to divide and conquer that way. It was a business that grown with both of us doing everything.
Angelo: During these first couple of years what was it like with your family life? Because you mentioned Edlena earlier and being supportive, so let’s get back to that.
Orion: It was tough. I sold my practice for much less than what it was worth because I just needed to get out of it. I had two mortgages, in 2012 we were renting our house down south but not making enough to cover the mortgage so we had a workout a loan mort, by the way, the bank recovered all of their money and that’s all paid off now. It was getting to the point where I wasn’t making any income, my wife was working 50 hours a week, my parents were helping to raise our kids, and I remember when my wife came home and said, “honey that’s it, we’ve maxed out our credit cards”. I had gotten into $100,000 of credit card debt Angelo. Granted I was a certified financial planner, I drained all of my retirement accounts for this and racked up my credit cards.
I didn’t follow my own advice, thankfully because I knew we were on to something. My poor wife though, even though she wasn’t stressing me on my vision and my pursuit of that vision, she was very supportive, she always paid the bills, so she saw all the bills coming in, she saw balancing the checkbooks or the checkbook actually wouldn’t balance at that time. She burdened a lot of that stress. I remember her coming to me and said, “Honey, I can’t even buy groceries”. I was telling her, “don’t distract me with that, I need to have a positive mindset”. I made her shoulder all of that burden while I wanted to focus on the possibilities and abundance that the business was going to provide. I wanted to live in the future and she lived in the present. That’s just what a great spouse and partner that she has been allowing me to do that.
During that time my dad would lend us money like a thousand here or two thousand there to be able to buy groceries, but I certainly wasn’t paying down my credit card down at that time. From January 2011 that’s when we started the business we didn’t start generating—even when we had raised $500,000 from angels we still didn’t take any pay because we didn’t want to deplete our working capital. We didn’t start generating a paycheck until 2013. I know Aaron was having a tough time too. He sold his practice which ultimately, the guy didn’t end up paying him for multiple reasons. He lost a lot of money during that time pursuing this dream as well. We commiserated together as best friends. His wife and my wife were best friends, I considered him to be one of my best friends. We got through it together. Had it only been me or only been him and the spouse and then we might not have persevered.
Angelo: This is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing all this. When you say you trusted your intuition and knew that you were on to something, what does that feel like? Because I think a lot of people aren’t even aware of what that feeling could possibly feel like.
Orion: Let’s just put it this way: on my birthday in 2011 I was frantically buying domains and I think I stayed up until the wee hours just marinating on this. It was a divine vision that I had been granted, and I could just see the future.
It was so intuitive to me I knew I couldn’t lose. Knowing now what I do about the beverage business, had I been an industry veteran there would be way too many arguments why this wasn’t going to work. But at that time I was 100% convinced. My gut always treated me right so it was full intuition and it just felt right. It did not feel manufactured in anyway. I think a lot of smart people they get their MBAs want so to desperately to create something that they will pursue an idea that is not worthy of pursuing. That wasn’t my background and so it didn’t feel forced at all, it just felt totally natural and I could see the future, I could see the future of the company, I could see my future life. I would tell your listeners to trust your intuition– hopefully your intuition is as good as mine.
Orion: Let me say another crazy story because this just popped up. Once you unlock that secret, and that’s what Peter Thiel calls it a secret in his book Zero to One. Once you unlock that secret and it’s an obvious secret and you make your declaration speed is super important. I learned that when Aaron and I were going to do an app. It’s so stupid I don’t even want to tell you the name, but that idea wasn’t worth pursuing. Another app came out during that time that was essentially our idea for an app. When you are thinking something—I believe in collective consciousness, and I believe what you are thinking dozens of other people are thinking it, so speed is super important.
We didn’t have the money to trademark the whole LifeAID thing, we just trademarked GolferAid. That was going to be the first one to come to market. Then we were thinking about it and the day before GolferAid launch I said, do you know this AID is so obvious that someone’s going to knock it off for fitness for sleep for something else. So we ended up to insulate the portfolio, trademarking all of these names. We spend our money to do that. Angelo the day after we trademarked FitAid a group in Florida all the way across the country tried to trademark FitAid. They had no idea what we were doing- we had no idea what they were doing. Had we waited one day to trademark FitAid they would be first in line and we wouldn’t have a company.
Angelo: That’s incredible. What a crazy story.
Orion: I’ve never been a superstitious guy but this experience has really caused me to think that there are powers beyond ourselves that we don’t understand. I’ll just leave it at that.
Angelo: For you during this process of getting LifeAID up and going in these hard times, did you ever give yourself a deadline, like if we are not doing it by this day I’m moving on to something else? Was there any pressure from your family to do that? Or did you just always see this happening?
Orion: I always saw it happening and I wasn’t not going to succeed. I had to succeed, otherwise I would have been [inaudible 00:48:53] and who knows what that would have done to my marriage and my family and everything else. I had to succeed, there was no other option. I didn’t give myself any out.
Angelo: That’s awesome. Good for you. It’s ballsy, very nice.
Orion: Again, I was so drunk with this vision that I wasn’t thinking rationally at the time. Thank god I wasn’t thinking rationally.
Angelo: Let me ask you this: do you feel like your artistic and creative side helped you to stay optimistic during this side? Because if you look from a statistical perspective, if you were thinking on that side of your brain you probably wouldn’t have bet on—from an outside perspective bet on you guys succeeding.
Orion: The heart led this whole endeavor, not the mind. Of course the analytical side of the brain has to kick in in terms of execution, but the heart is what got us to where we are today.
I give much more credence to the heart than the brain especially the early days of our startup. Of course we were smart, we were analytical, we were methodical how we sequenced the business to be able to grow it with the least amount of resources possible, but this is definitely a passion project of ours.
Angelo: That’s awesome. You got GolferAid going and then you got into FitAid, and that’s where I connected with you guys through the CrossFit space. Was the expansion in going into FitAid and seeing success there, was that when you guys really began to see that this was working and really going to go the right way?
Orion: Yeah. We took some key learning from GolferAid, and essentially the key learning was ‘buy 10 cases get a free fridge of GolferAid fridge’. We took that-what we call an irresistible offer and we applied it to the CrossFit channel and we did so with some automated marketing that one of our advisers said we needed, Infusion Soft for our marketing to be able to—there’s only two of us but this could reach thousands of people through automation. So through that technology plus the irresistible offer we developed through GolferAid plus having a free list of CrossFit gyms knowing exactly their address and where they are from the CrossFit website and getting notifications when new CrossFits come out, we transformed the business from one that was somewhat struggling because we were still doing in GolferAid we got it to about 400,000 in sales, but just the economics in beverage are so backwards, you need to really build it to a massive scale before you can ever be profitable as a beverage.
But we took that and we transformed the business from one that was fledgling to a real viable business. I think we went from 600,000 to 4 million dollars in less than 12 months during that process. We were opening up some months over 200 brand new CrossFit gyms. We built this company not because our products are great, which they are by the way, but we built it by giving a damn free fridge to these CrossFit gyms that didn’t have a fridge and they wanted that fridge. That’s essentially why we are in business today.
Angelo: That’s so incredible. How did you figure out that the 10 cases and the free fridge was actually going to be a win for you guys?
Orion: We spilt-tested a lot of different things. I think first we were sending out mailers to get a free fridge and that didn’t really pull, the thing that pulled was actually when we gave them four free cans, told them to ice it down, just a gift in the mail whether they wanted it or not. We dialed that in and we went from opening 10 new gyms to 100 new gyms in a month, just from one month to the next really figuring out our marketing sequence. I give Aaron a lot of credit here; he did a tremendous job in the copy of the sales letter and the flow of the sequence from getting a free full pack to opting in to get a free fridge. Yeah, we just persevered and really split-test and dialed in the marketing and used automation. Once we figure out we were fishing in the right pond then we were just pulling fish out left and right.
Angelo: That’s incredible. Once you realized you were on to something with FitAid, how was that moment for you being able to share that with your wife, with Edlena now?
Orion: It was a tremendous sense of relief knowing that I didn’t know exactly how big of a company we would become, nor by the way today, I still have the question like how big we’ll become, but knowing that I’m on a path to be able to [inaudible 00:55:03].
All this momentage shifted in our favor, like the economy started coming out of recession and I was able to sell my house. I did a loan mort in 2012 on the house, 2013 is right when our CrossFit program came out and the market turned and I was able to sell my house actually at a profit, pay the bank all the way off and pay off my credit card debt. That all happened and the business started moving in the right direction. That all happened, so momentum begets momentum and that all shifted and it was a much more comfortable time in my life. Although I still miss the early days of the founding of the company, that will always have a special place in my heart, but I’m not going to lie, it was pretty damn stressful. My wife was very happy though.
Angelo: I can imagine. What is life like for you as the CEO of LifeAID?
Prion: I would say life has never been better. Both of our wives work for the company now. My financial picture is good although I suffer from what most entrepreneurs, being asset rich and cash poor still. Bought a home up in the Santa Cruz Mountains it’s an amazing piece of property. By the way on my personal vision board since my early days of deejaying in my bedroom or deejaying in a closet with cardboard, some half-ass installation so I don’t piss off the neighbors, I’ve always wanted a studio and now I’m happy to say that in my house we have this old interesting property but behind the house has its own studio which is my man cave deejay studio. I’ve actually made good on my vision and now I do have a studio which I can record and have a party in and do all that. Life is pretty good.
Still always a challenge: the stakes are much higher now than they were back then, executing and retail, spending just a tremendous amount of money to build the brand awareness and compete with big drinks. There is still stress in my life don’t get me wrong, and there should be some healthy stress, but life is good, the company is great, our team is amazing. What started with just myself and Aaron now we have over 70 people on the team, much smarter people than both of us, he might not say that but I’ll be on the record saying that.
Angelo: You are a good CEO.
Orion: It’s been a great adventure, and there is still a lot more adventure in front of us. It’s been an incredible ride so far.
Angelo: It’s incredible to think about this too, if you think about the chain of events that this all started with. But how incredible is it that you found house music, you created a record store, you found your wife, your and Aaron bonded on your deejaying, and then you created this company, and here you go.
Orion: The music has been good to me my friend.
Angelo: You could say that for sure. It’s incredible. What kind of advice would you like to share to somebody that may have an idea or an entrepreneurial dream? Is there any key advice that you think is worth passing along?
Orion: It sounds cliché but I didn’t want to look back on my life and say, ‘boy, I had this tremendous idea that I never executed, and I let someone else execute’. As I often say, what is the worst that could have happened to me? I had a great solid marriage, I had great children- the worse that could have happened to me is I went into bankruptcy. I wasn’t going to be an endangered servant. This company has created bankruptcy laws so people can take a chance. If you recognize that there is a safety net underneath you then you are more willing to take those chances. Again, I would say make sure you have good intuition, make sure you have the right idea, make sure you have a good business partner, I think co-creation is certainly important, co-governance of the organization, and co-declaration, those are all important ingredients to success. I would say go for it.
If it doesn’t work out you are going to learn a shit ton in the process and that’s the most important thing that you have that you build upon your skillset. I’m still trying to build upon my skillset every single day as CEO of LifeAID.
Angelo: Could you see yourself being CEO if and when LifeAID goes public? Are you that guy? It’s a real question because it would be a different beast at that point.
Orion: Yeah. I like operating the company. I like seeing the acceptance of the product. I haven’t been on a quarterly earnings call getting railed by shareholders so maybe my attitude would change but I could see myself continuing on as CEO, it’s not about the money, it’s about solving problems and staying curious. Or I could sell out and focus on the music I haven’t quite decided yet. I could see myself as continuing to operate the company, yes.
Angelo: That’s awesome. It’s so amazing to see too, for you never been in the beverage industry getting into the beverage industry, start a private company and then be able to evolve into that, that’s quite an evolution my friend.
Orion: It is. I have good mentors, I have the right people working underneath us and they are teaching me every day about this industry. I’m building quite a skillset. I’m building a leadership skillset. I am constantly needing to evolve; a lot of people depend on me to do so.
Angelo: What would you say is your biggest focus of evolution right now? What area are you really [inaudible 01:02:10]
Orion: I’m trying to be a better leader. I’m trying to be a better communicator. That’s part of the reason I’m on this podcast. Part of my quarterly goals is to be on a couple more podcasts. I came to a decision with Aaron, like we wanted to split media time 50-50, but he is more of a social butterfly, he really enjoys getting out and sharing the message of LifeAID. Certainly from the formulation side of the business and the nutrition side of the business he’s got a lot of credibility there. Having two people out there speaking might confuse the market, that’s maybe the excuses I’ve given myself why I’m not out in front and more behind the scenes. But I think that’s changing and I think I’m evolving, and I think you are seeing part of the evolution in our conversation today.
Angelo: I’m glad to be a part of this new evolution. Thank you. I’ve got a few questions to ask you that we ask every guest. Me and you joked about this a few weeks ago, maybe a month ago when I was with you: you get to define what alpha hippie is, and you had a funny answer a month ago about being an Omega. I would love for you to define what alpha hippie means to you.
Orion: When you came out with this whole concept of alpha hippie I kind of had a chuckle because I’m a product of the Santa Cruz Mountains and my name is Orion and I’m a deejay, so I think I kind of embody that alpha hippie vibe. I would say someone that’s always moving, someone that is a strong leader, someone that sticks up for the downtrodden, and lives their life with integrity and authenticity. I think that’s what alpha hippie stands for for me. The comment about alpha-omega, I kind of joke Aaron is A very much an alpha, and how do I out alpha an alpha? Well, I don’t, so I’m okay being O- Omega. That was the joke.
Angelo: I love it. Where could people find you especially now that you are going to be on more podcasts and things like that, find you and LifeAID?
Orion: Reach out to me on email omelehan m-e-l-e-h-a-n @lifeaid l-i-f-e-a-i-d bevco b-e-v-c-o.com that’s my email if anyone wants to reach out.
I’m always happy to pick up the phone and have a quick conversation with any entrepreneurs that are facing challenges or giving any advice when it’s requested and needed.
Angelo: That’s incredible. Thank you man, that’s one quite an invitation. I appreciate it for all the listeners. Last but certainly not least, if you had one word to be remembered by, what would it be?
Angelo: That you are my friend. Orion this has been incredible my man, thank you for making time and I hope you enjoyed it.
Orion: It’s been fun. I enjoyed it Angelo, and I look forward to chatting with you offline and seeing your own journey into entrepreneurialism with the podcast and everything else you’ve got going on. I’m a big fan of yours as well.
Angelo: Thank you my brother. I love you.
Orion: That’s how every friendship should be my man.
Angelo: I love you very much. Thank you.
You’ve been listening to The Alpha Hippie Podcast.
Angelo: Thanks for listening to The Alpha Hippie Podcast everyone. Again, if you are enjoying the show please subscribe and give us a rating on iTunes, my guest and I really appreciate the feedback. If you are on Instagram follow us at @thealphahippie to see what’s going on in our world, upcoming shows and all our news. See you next time.
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