If you think you’ve seen dramatic growth before, think again. ViSalus—a multilevel marketing company that sells weight-management products and food supplements—went from less than $50 million to more than $600 million in sales in just three years. Sales in the first half of 2012 were up 540 percent, to more than $325 million, while customer count had exploded to 1.2 million.
Started in 2005 by Ryan Blair, Blake Mallen, and Nick Sarnicola, the majority-owned and publically traded company takes its culture cues from its three young, charismatic, and savvy cofounders. As chief administrative officer, Tyler Schuessler has a big task ahead of her—she’s been asked to maintain ViSalus’s entrepreneurial DNA while attracting dynamic and high-performance employees in a period of unprecedented worldwide growth.
ViSalus goes to market through direct sales using a growing army of independent salesmen they call “promoters” to sell meal replacements, energy drinks, and other weight-management products. The company competes domestically and internationally with Herbalife, in addition to numerous other multinational weight-management companies. ViSalus entered the European marketplace in 2013.
Stiff competition means ViSalus must rise above the crowd in three areas: products, marketing, and employees. In 2011, ViSalus created its Body by Vi 90-Day Challenge. The fitness platform quickly became the top choice in North America and sparked rapid upward trajectory. Schuessler and ViSalus have had to adapt and react quickly. She worked with founders and colleagues to build an executive team, scale the supply chain function, increase the sales and marketing staff, and revamp a call center that today has more than 300 employees taking calls in several languages.
One of the company’s biggest challenges lies in the complexity of moving internationally and navigating food and drug regulations in various jurisdictions. “We’re adapting the product line and selling message for Canadian requirements and requirements in the EU,” Schuessler says, adding that the company sees unlimited potential in parts of the world where weight management is an issue.
And it’s not just regulations that make international expansion difficult—Schuessler must find the right talent to take ViSalus global. She works with a recruiting website and an in-house team that sources candidates. “Using our own talent to recruit new employees has been critical during a period of rapid growth,” she says. “It helps us keep the essence of ViSalus. We find the exact kind of person we need where an outside firm could have trouble doing so.”
In the early days of ViSalus, a handful of executives made all the decisions; that’s no longer possible. The three cofounders built a team around them comprised of professionals with “an entrepreneurial bent combined with big-company experience,” says Schuessler. That management team engages in a collaborative hiring process that trickles down to other levels. Although not all have veto power, many members participate in the ViSalus hiring and interview process. “Having many people involved in hiring gives us a rounded view of candidates from people who they will be working with down the road,” Schuessler says. “It creates buy in from many departments and gives potential employees a chance to network with future colleagues.”
As the lengthy process nears its conclusion, finalists are invited to “go camping” with the company. They might hike a challenging trail or walk through a public park. The idea, Schuessler says, is to discover what a candidate is like outside of the office and see how they interact in real life situations.
Programs known as Reach initiatives help Schuessler attract and develop employees that fit in and reflect the company’s larger culture. Reach In is a multiday onboarding program for new hires that introduces them to the company, product line, and markets. Each new employee selects a fitness goal and participates in the 90-day Challenge using ViSalus products.
Reach Up takes tenured employees through training modules. “As our company experiences this unprecedented growth, we realize there is a need for new training,” Schuessler says. Many employees have been thrust into management positions for the first time in their careers. Reach Up provides them with hard-hitting modules that cover areas like time management, giving feedback, motivating employees, and conflict resolution.
Schuessler and ViSalus know that 80 percent of the company’s revenue will likely come from markets outside of the United States. As the company opens new markets, it builds small, nimble management teams that localize ViSalus’s products and business model. The fast-paced, high-growth company lives and dies with its independent promoters. Everything Schuessler and her full-time employees do is designed to support those promoters and their customers, who have the potential to sustain the incredible growth of ViSalus.