On his website, Antonio Centeno lists the businesses he owns. They include Real Men Real Style, a blog and a YouTube channel with millions of readers and subscribers. Menfluential Media is an influencer ad network. Area627, of which I’m a partner, invests in up-and-coming ecommerce companies. There are fragrance businesses. Stress reducers. Writing instruction.
And there’s Vitaman, a direct-to-consumer online seller of organic skin and hair products for men. Centeno launched the site in early 2020, having collaborated with the founder, who started the business roughly 20 years ago in Australia.
“I get tons of grooming products in the mail,” Centeno told me. “But after receiving Vitaman’s, I’m like, ‘I got to learn more about these.'”
The result is Vitaman USA, a Shopify-powered business owned by Centeno and two minority partners, including the original founder.
In our recent conversation, I asked Centeno about scaling Vitaman, balancing multiple companies, hiring global employees, and more. The entire audio version is embedded below. The transcript the follows is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Vitaman has an interesting story.
Centeno: The company launched in Australia in 1999. The founder, Clare, is still active. She’s now my business partner. We sell natural skin and hair care products for men. Vitaman’s been big in the spa industry in the Middle East and Australia for years.
But in 2019 Clare realized she was pigeonholed in the spa industry with little online presence. A mutual friend introduced us at a conference in London.
Later, in New York, that friend shared with me samples of Vitaman’s products. They blew me away. I have a YouTube channel, Real Men Real Style, that teaches men how to dress. I get tons of grooming products in the mail. But after receiving Vitaman’s, I’m like, “I got to learn more about these.”
Turns out that Clare was open to forming a partnership. She and I created a new division of the company called Vitaman USA. I have a big ownership stake.
So, Clare, Dale (my friend who introduced us), and I are now partners. In February 2020, we were less than $1,000 in monthly sales. May 2021 sales were $40,000. We expect to hit up to $700,000 in sales this year. That’s something I’m proud of because I own multiple other companies. This is a side venture. Clare still owns Vitamin Global, which is the distributor to the spas.
After forming the partnership, we launched the Vitaman ecommerce site. It has roughly 3,800 customers to date.
What sets our products apart is we use plants and organic materials from the Australian outback. Everything is made in Australia following strict European standards using natural ingredients. Most products are certified organic.
We target men who are high-performers, entrepreneurs, business owners, athletes. They take care of their bodies.
Bandholz: How does Clare’s global business impact your U.S. division?
Centeno: Clare has done an amazing job for 20 years. She built a brand; she has an image; she has a story. Many of her customers have used the products since she started. But the vast majority of them, again, were in Australia and the Middle East. The brand had not made much of an impact in the U.S.
Plus, her customer types are different than mine. A guy that spends hundreds of dollars at a spa isn’t very price sensitive. But when you’re selling online, there’s a lot more comparing prices, even for luxury items. It’s a different experience from selling in spas. We have to sell our quality and our difference.
Bandholz: You’re a man of many businesses. Real Men Real Style is a popular blog and a YouTube channel with, what, millions of followers?
Centeno: Yes, millions. Plus we’ve got a Russian channel with half a million subscribers. The Spanish channel is picking up with 25,000.
Bandholz: How did you grow Vitaman from $1,000 per month in revenue to $40,000?
Centeno: Initially, it was promoting through my Real Mean Real Style YouTube channel. I’ve probably done 40 videos in the last 14 months that mentioned Vitaman. Sometimes it’s a light mention. Other times, it’s a two-minute commercial within the video.
Beginning this year we started pushing advertising on Google. That’s been doing well for us. We’re getting a four-to-one return. So we’re happy with that. We have yet to crack the Facebook nut. YouTube ads, that’s the next area we’re working on.
One thing that we did early on was to call every buyer and thank him personally. I don’t spend probably more than four to five hours a week looking at this business, and that includes meetings. But I told my second in command at Real Men Real Style, “You take this business, and you have 100% responsibility. Own it.” And for the first 10 months, it was just him, me, and Clare. And he was making things happen. We learned a lot.
We’ve made many mistakes. We’ve been too aggressive in our emails and some of the ads, which Clare objected to.
Bandholz: Your website is Vitaman.com. Did she own the domain?
Centeno: No, it was owned by somebody else. When we partnered, that was one of the big victories we had early on. Clare found the person that owned it, who was an entrepreneur that owned a huge company. And she was able to obtain that domain. We didn’t have to buy it.
Bandholz: She got it for free?
Centeno: Pretty much.
Bandholz: What do you see Vitaman USA becoming?
Centeno: It’s not bigger than the global division yet. My goal is to grow it and turn it into a cash cow or a sale. It is not consuming my life. I already have a YouTube channel, a media company, a conference. I have other aspirations to get going. I have a fragrance brand, for example.
I didn’t want this to consume a crazy amount of my time.
Bandholz: You hire employees worldwide for your various ventures.
Centeno: Initially, I hired some Filipino virtual assistants, but then I discovered they had a lot of talent, and they could be a lot more. I now have five Filipinos that work for me. They started in virtual assistant positions, and then they specialized.
I also hired an artist in the Philippines and spent two years training him on YouTube thumbnails. I now consider him one of the best YouTube thumbnail artists. That’s what he does. He’s written an ebook on it.
So I look for people that have a high level of intelligence that we can train. It doesn’t always work, and it requires patience. But when it does work, we can develop a very loyal team while keeping our payroll in check.
Bandholz: You’ve sold ebooks online. What’s the difference between selling a digital and physical product online?
Centeno: My first company was selling suits online. This was back in 2008. That company went through bankruptcy. It was called A Tailored Suit. It was a bad experience. I remember shipping suits to Russia, and they got lost. These were custom bespoke suits, irreplaceable. We would lose them. I hated dealing with shipping.
So I love digital products because even if the sale isn’t as large as a custom suit, I keep 99% of it.
But information is harder to sell. We still sell ebooks. I think we could definitely do a better job at it. I’ve enjoyed getting back into the physical products. But shipping costs continue to increase, product costs continue to go up, and customers want to keep the price at a certain level.
That being said, if I had to start over, I would get into e-products because I could sell an e-product tomorrow, even if it’s live coaching or consulting.
Bandholz: You’ve got Vitaman; you’ve got Menfluential; you’ve got Real Men Real Style. There’s Area627. What am I missing?
Centeno: We’re soon to launch Mission Fragrances.
Bandholz: What does your day look like in terms of committing to these different businesses?
Centeno: I usually start my work week on Sunday. I spend a few hours on Sunday filming a video and planning my week. I try to take off most of Friday and Saturday because I’ve got four kids and a wife. So I work half a day on Sundays.
When I go to bed on Sunday, the Filipino employees are already on their morning and checking emails and downloading videos to work on that I’ve uploaded.
I try to be very clear at the beginning of the week where our focus is. It helps me stay focused as well. Mondays are heavy with meetings. I’ve always got a Monday and Wednesday meeting at 8:00 a.m. It’s a 15-minute meeting; it used to be an hour. Sometimes it’s only five minutes.
The two hours from 8:00 to 10:00 on Monday and Wednesday mornings are the only time I’m guaranteed to be there. My team can grab me and talk for 5, 10 minutes. If they need more than that, we can set up a later meeting. Tuesdays and Thursdays I try to leave open for important meetings in that first hour from 8:00 to 9:00. Then I have the rest of the day to film videos. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll try to get two to three videos filmed.
Bandholz: So a lot of your time still goes to Real Men Real Style.
Centeno: Yes. That business is my lifeblood. It has made everything else possible. It is not my most profitable business, but it takes the most time.
Bandholz: Where can people reach out and learn more about your businesses?
Centeno: Go to Google and type in “Antonio Centeno.” You’ll find my websites. Or go to AntonioCenteno.com. I lay out all my businesses there, with a contact form.