How this hummus startup used stickers to grow
Posted by Tyler Vawser on
Today, we want to introduce you to Nabil Fahel — the man whetting the appetite of the tech elite.
Nabil is the mastermind behind Black Market Hummus, the hottest secret food devoured by the technology world in Canada. Here's what some of the world's greatest tech leaders have to say about his hummus:
"Honestly the best hummus I have ever had." -Joanne Wilson, CEO, Gotham Gal Ventures
"As expected, hummus is out of this world good!" -Alex Iskold, Managing Director, Techstars
"Holy smokes this hummus is scary good!" -Carol Leaman, CEO, Axonify
Did you ever think an underground hummus business would have such ferocious supporters?
Every month, he and his team deliver small, hand-made batches of hummus to employees at Google, Shopify, Electronic Arts, Open Text, and other of other multi-billion dollar tech companies in Waterloo, Ontario.
Best of all, he started his business for under $1,000 (and was profitable in the first month).
Nabil never planned to start a hummus business. Instead, Black Market Hummus started from Nabil bringing his mom's hummus everywhere. When he shared with friends at poker tournaments and tech community gatherings, they'd salivate — and DEMAND he bring more the next time.
No paid marketing spend, no SEO, no print advertising budgets...just total word-of-mouth.
Seeing the potential for more after sharing with friends, it wasn't long until Nabil was secretly trekking unmarked plastic containers of his homemade hummus across international borders to share at a conference. He would give it to everyone...and it worked.
How do I spend as little as possible and launch a brand people love?"
As the word-of-mouth snowball continued rolling, even diplomats wanted in — one day, a Canadian diplomat got Nabil's phone number and reached out asking for hummus.
Nabil's response, "If you can meet me in 10 minutes, I'll bring you a container of hummus."
The Canadian diplomat didn't even bat an eye.
The Mayor, diplomats, poker friends, conference goers...Nabil couldn't fill orders fast enough, so he thought about how to expand on a shoestring budget. In Nabil's words, "How do I spend as little as possible and launch a brand people love?"
At this point, Nabil didn't even have a name for the business. But after talking with a friend, the name was clear.
"We should name it Black Market Hummus," his friend Tony said. "Street-side deals... international trafficking... it just makes sense."
Branding Black Market Hummus
Around this time, Nabil also joined Shopify to help lead their enterprise partnerships program. As part of their employee onboarding, Nabil was required to create and build a "test" Shopify store. He decided to create one for Black Market Hummus.
With a business name, a website created, and a free Mailchimp account, Nabil decided to ship only to commercial addresses once a month to save on shipping costs, keep the hummus exclusive, and to make it easy for his customers to spread the word...and the hummus.
I knew it had to be Sticker Mule."
To brand his hummus and label his containers, he picked Sticker Mule's die cut stickers and soon after that, Black Market Hummus was officially born.
He mocked up a quick design and worked with our expert artists, for free, to revise it to perfection and make it production ready. As Nabil said, "I didn’t even shop around. I knew it had to be Sticker Mule."
Using die cut stickers was a turning point for Nabil. Using the stickers as labels made his hummus recognizable from across the room — and the name sparked curiosity too.
With beautiful labels now on his hummus, he started to legitimize the brand, increase word-of-mouth sales, and go from "that guy who brings amazing hummus to parties" to "CEO of an exploding hummus business."
Best of all, a pack of 200 die cut stickers cost him 3-5x less than a typical ad spend. He was able to quickly create a brand people would recognize and excitedly share with their social circles.
With his idea validated through the demand of friends, colleagues, and even Canadian diplomats — and now a brand and beautiful design to back it up — Nabil sent a single email to customers who bought his hummus in the past. He announced he was doing a large batch order and was curious who wanted to buy hummus.
That one email resulted in $1,600 in sales.
Already, in his very first month of "official" sales, Nabil was profitable.
Today, Nabil's business is still exploding with growth following the same strategy: using Sticker Mule roll labels on all of his hummus containers, freshly made hummus shipped once a month, and delivery strictly to commercial addresses.
"Reaction from the local community has been incredible," Nabil says.
How to build a brand people love
Here are the 3 lessons from Nabil about he grew Black Market Hummus for less than $1,000 into a brand people love:
Validate your idea through friends to make sure there's demand first — and then slowly expand to other social groups, friends-of-friends, and acquaintances to keep validating. Free is okay at the start, but to truly validate you need paying customers — even if they are friends.
2. The power of scarcity
Think of creative ways you can generate demand and scarcity mentality in your customers. For example, Nabil only ships once a month to commercial addresses. This encourages people to place larger orders and share with friends so they don't miss their "window of opportunity." At the start of the business, his website was locked with a password to limit demand and feed the brand’s exclusive "black market" status.
3. Get eyes on your brand
On a shoestring budget, get creative with marketing. Nabil used die cut stickers to create brand recognition and save 3-5x on his marketing costs. His customers were eating the hummus at work and at parties so the hummus was already visible — adding branding sealed the deal.
Visit Nabil and Black Market Hummus here.
Then order the same stickers Nabil used to grow his brand on a shoestring budget using your own logo here.
With your stickers you’ll get free online proofs, unlimited design revisions and custom stickers and labels that are weather resistant, waterproof and can be run through the dishwasher.
To get you started, we'll take $10 off your first order when you sign up by clicking the button below.