Vertellis is a niche gaming and mindfulness company that says it’s “striving to make a worldwide impact on the way people connect in our digital society.” Intrigued by their unique product and Shopify store, I spoke with Bart Kloosterhuis, one of the co-founders at Vertellis, to find out more about their journey and values.
Bart isn’t a math guy, but that’s okay. Vertellis’ founding team is fortunate to have a good mix of skill sets. “I don’t touch anything with too many numbers in it,” Bart said, “or stuff that is too technical. I’m more creative, others are more financially smart with operational knowledge and (online) marketing too. Our mix is pretty awesome to start off with.” Presently, Bart is in charge of new business, product development, and storytelling.
“The journey from the start until now has been amazing,” Bart told me. “We started our idea with a crowdfunding campaign but didn’t utilize any of the crowdfunding platforms. We did it ourselves. We shared our story and the mission behind our product–stimulating time offline and bringing people closer together via a self-reflection card game for the holidays. This resonated with a lot of people and we had immediate traction.”
After Vertellis’ first launch in the Netherlands, the team decided to share their product with more people around the world. “So we translated our question card game into German, Danish, Swedish and English for the USA,” Bart continued. “In year two, we successfully launched in the USA and created new products to add to our lineup in the ‘mindfulness’ section.”
Vertellis currently offers nine products on their site, all of which “are designed to increase offline moments, make space for self-reflection, and spark sincere conversations with people you care about.” The products include a mindfulness journal and multiple card games–some for improving romantic relationships and others for spending more quality time with your kids.
“Our team of founders all have a passion for self-development,” Bart said. “Our busy societies and all the possibilities we have online are great, but also time and energy-consuming. It’s important that we are mindful of our feelings, emotions, and each other. The more connected we are as a species (online), the more we crave for ‘real’ connections and great conversations. Each of us had this feeling so we created a product out of it to help the world. Since inspiring as many people as we can is our main motivator, that led us to think big and dare to go across borders.”
Bart and his team have had impeccable timing. According to John LaRosa, market researcher and President of Marketdata LLC, “The U.S. meditation market was estimated to be valued at $959 million as of 2015, growing to $1.08 billion in 2016 and $1.21 billion in 2017. Average annual revenue growth is forecast to be 11.4%, to $2.08 billion by 2022.”
And that’s just meditation. The entire mindfulness sector is much larger.
Bart says that Vertellis’ success actually took the team by surprise and that they expected sales would amount to little more than a side-hustle. Unexpected high-volume sales placed a strain on their time and processes.
“We hoped to sell 500 games in year one, but this became around 20,000,” Bart laughed. “We had no systems in place to manage this. We did everything ourselves including customer service and making sure the right people got the right order. One huge mistake we made was using an excel sheet for bigger orders because our distribution partner also made a mistake by copying the excel sheet which resulted in all of the 200 orders we had that day getting mixed up. People who ordered five got one, and vice versa.”
Not one to let lemons stay lemons, Bart says the team turned the mixup into an opportunity for customer joy.
“So what did we do?” Bart said. “We turned it into something fun. We called everyone up, explained the situation, and created even more trust and understanding from our initial fans. Everything worked out, but after that, we knew how important it was to work with good systems in place.”
While selling something simple like a card game might sound easy, Bart says it’s a lot harder than it looks because of their global market and expansion goals.
“It’s difficult because we are selling around the world,” Bart told me. “We have multiple products in multiple languages which are essentially all unique products. That’s because of all the different languages. So the distribution, the margins, the marketing, etcetera all have to be done multiple times. And that’s not only in the Netherlands and the USA. We are actually in 11 countries as of now and are opening three more in 2020 (including India). Each country has its own challenges, and VAT, legal and distribution are definitely the front runners.”
We’ve all been there–staring off into the distance with a dream in our hearts and a world of excitement about our new idea. Then the thinking starts. And unfortunately, that thinking is our lizard brain telling us that we’re up to something risky, possibly even life-threatening. Of course, none of what the lizard brain is saying is true. The truth is, we have to stop thinking and just do. At least that’s what Bart thinks.
“My tip for other Shopify entrepreneurs is to not think big projects through too much,” Bart said. “If you get excited by a new idea, partner, product, or whatever, just go for it if you have the right people with energy. Every time we started a new project (including transferring our Woocommerce websites to Shopify), it was way more work than we’d anticipated. If we would have known about that workload and all the challenges we’d encounter beforehand, we probably would cancel half of those projects due to feeling overwhelmed. Instead, we just trust our team and know that we can solve stuff on the go. So we say, ‘Screw it, just do it!’ as Richard Branson famously coined.”
Even with all the challenges, Bart says he wouldn’t change a thing.
“Everything is learning on the job,” Bart told me. “We at Vertellis love it. Of course, in hindsight, we might want to change 198,272 things that we felt we did wrong. However, I don’t think that's the right mindset to have. If you’re thinking that way, you won’t have the energy and passion to deal with what’s going on right now. So, we just take things as they come.”
The team at Vertellis has just recovered from an incredibly busy holiday season (as I’m sure all of you reading this have). But now, it’s time to look toward the year to come. And Vertellis isn’t slowing down.
“We’re launching new countries and products,” Bart told me. “Besides physical products, we also want to inspire people online with video courses. We also want to focus on helping kids to be more mindful in our busy society. This is just a small piece of what’s cooking. We’d definitely encourage people to follow us if they want to know more. We’re pretty sure that we send only nice newsletters, not focused on sales, but on inspiration & updates. So don’t be afraid to subscribe!”