Few business owners ever succeed in taking their company to profitability and beyond. Even fewer do it twice for different startups.
Meet Kenny Kline. After growing a medical test prep company, MedPreps, into one of the largest medical certification test prep businesses in the nation, he's returned to do it all over again with his latest venture, BarBend.
While the two businesses seemingly have nothing to do with each other, they have one common link: using digital marketing and a strong web presence to be a big player in a niche market.
Kline co-founded BarBend in 2016. Already, the company is knocking at the door of 1 million in monthly visitors. It offers strength sports news and analysis, and recently launched fitness-related product reviews. These achievements stem from Kline’s mission to provide a superior content and user experience.
Kline might make it look effortless. But in truth, his latest venture has succeeded not because it lacked challenges, but in spite of them.
The Challenges of Small Markets
Kline grew up in Barrington, Illinois, a town with a lot of successful business folks - but not many entrepreneurs. “I had a great childhood growing up, but I didn’t have much exposure to people that were building companies,” say Kline.
When Kline started his first company seven years ago, he was worried that the markets he was entering would be too small. However, he knew that he could beat the competition quickly and turn a nice profit by essentially taking over the niche.
"If you’re in a small market, you can’t build a big company by being second place," says Kline. "The same principle applies to BarBend. Feedback early on was that the market is too small. But we knew that if we became the undisputed number one media company in the space, we could build a really large company." To that end, the company has gradually expanded its content to other related categories, including product reviews and nutrition.
Then there are the challenges associated with growing any business, such as finding driven and passionate employees, building a work environment, and staying one step ahead of competitors. Any one of these hurdles could result in BarBend being viewed as a second-tier player.
How BarBend Is Meeting Those Challenges Head-On
While Kline was at Columbia Business School, he learned the importance of staying true to his company’s mission from day one. Here are some of the strategies and priorities that have allowed BarBend to become a big player in the strength sports market within one year.
Above all else, BarBend remains focused on providing superior content by treating the space like a professional news source. "If something can’t be verified, we don’t print it," says Kline. "We’re not about speculation, but about information."
BarBend really stood out in this way during a few news stories on Olympic doping allegations in 2016. “A lot of people were writing about it, but they were speculating and jumping to conclusions,” Kline said. “We stood apart by just reporting on the facts. The headlines were much less sensational than others in the space, but people appreciated having a trusted news source when there was a lot of misinformation flying around.”
Hiring the Right Team
"I was a soccer player in high school, and rowed crew in college," says Kline. “I like to have that type of environment in the office - hard working, fun, and a great team environment.” His team includes a number of experienced strength sports journalists and start-up veterans from around NYC.
Kline can't stress enough how critical it is to hire people who are passionate about the space and whose success is tied to the company’s success. "We have a culture where we are all aligned," says Kline. "As I am fond of saying, 'passion is the shortcut to competing on the big stage.' Our team is the underdog right now, but we all are working every day to really dominate the space. Everyone on our team is onboard with the mission 100%."
"At BarBend, we are growing quickly, but we don’t scale up until we really need to," says Kline. "We make the most of our resources by growing responsibly and intentionally, even when growing rapidly."
So, from day one - even before they published their first post - the team outlined the expected needs and pressure points over the next year. And it's been very effective. "I was educated as a physicist," says Kline, speaking of his days at Washington University in St Louis. "I’m always planning, testing, and adjusting on repeat."
Keeping Calm Amidst the Chaos
"In every startup, whether it’s going very well or badly, you’re going to have a high level of uncertainty," says Kline. "Making good decisions with so much chaos is my number one focus."
Kline spent a year working for the Centre for Micro Finance in Chennai, India, before launching his first company, where he says he learned to look beyond current problems to see future results.
"That experience taught me a lot about overcoming unexpected challenges," says Kline. It was a work experience with a lot of unexpected problems, in a new country, working in settings where I was always learning something new.” It changed my perspective (for the better) on what you can accomplish, even when there is no clear path for you to follow.”
By all accounts, BarBend is already a successful company. So where does it go from here?
Upon reaching scale, Kline wants to continue growing profitably using organic growth and strategic partnerships, with the goal of becoming the highest trafficked site across the major strength sports within the next 3-5 years.
"I'd like BarBend to be in the top-10 private companies in our space: to really be one of the big players in every facet of operation," says Kline. "It’s an ambitious goal, and I’m excited to pursue it with such a great team in a great market".