Zef Eisenberg: 10 rules for growth, success and a perfectly-timed exit

The brains behind Britain's brawniest brand tells us how to build a multi-million pound empire


In just six years, former bodybuilder Zef Eisenberg grew his Watford-based company, Maximuscle, into Britain’s bestselling brand of sports nutrition products. In 2004, Piper Private Equity bought a majority stake in Maximuscle, achieving a 10x multiple on exit in 2007. The business was sold again in 2011 to GlaxoSmithKline for £162m.
Now, in the second of an exclusive series of articles kindly supplied by Piper, Eisenberg gives us his tips on how to pump up your brand image and create a lean, strong commercial operation.
1. Love what you do

Passion is essential; don’t get involved or do any business for ‘money’. I started Maximuscle on the back of a book I’d written exposing bad practice within the sports nutrition business. As a gym instructor and bodybuilder, I badly wanted the industry to change – and knew that the best way of bringing it about was by doing it myself.

2. Immerse yourself

To be successful, you need to immerse yourself in the industry; you have to eat, drink, live, breathe, sleep what you do. I usually give myself a month to learn the ins and outs of any new industry. I don’t do 9-5.

 
3. Hire wisely

Invest in the best staff you can afford. Share incentive plans allow you to offer substantial reward and motivation, while keeping salaries sensible. Don’t be too proud to know your limitations. Acknowledge your areas of weakness and employ better people to run areas in which you don’t have such expertise. But remember, price does not equal quality.

4. Entrust others

Once you’ve surrounded yourself with competent people, delegate as much as you can and allow them to get on with it. Expect them to own the project and have full accountability.

5. Exceed expectations

Quality and service are everything – leave no room for complacency or compromise. Your customers are king; offer them more than they expect and they’re far more likely to come back to you.

6. Go legit

People like brands that are legitimate and backed by science and evidence, as opposed to hot air and hype. Maximuscle’s history was firmly rooted in science, nutritional research and analysis. The company ethos never changed. New product development was led by research, not price – which was why its products became so popular among serious gym users, and elite professionals in sports such as football, rugby and athletics.

7. Take calculated risks

Success does not appear without taking regular, well thought-out risks. Things like bigger premises, more products, outside investment, higher calibre staff and new systems are all risky – but managed well, you can convert that risk into success and profit.

8. Get noticed

Edgy PR and marketing that doesn’t cost you much money are crucial. Do stunts; nything bold and daring that makes you stand out from the crowd, and gets people talking about your brand, is worth considering. Thanks to Maximuscle’s good connections with the British military, we once drove a tank through the streets of London and drew up outside Buckingham Palace. That certainly got the brand noticed – as did the time we turned up to our first trade show in an American monster truck offering cash to the bodybuilder who pulled the best pose!

9. Refine your exit strategy

At exit, put yourself in the mind of the buyer, with every area covered, checked and answered. Leave no room for debate, margin or chipping by grooming your business for accuracy, honesty and perfection. Ensure your business is 100 per cent kosher and properly audited. We did all this ahead of both exits at Maximuscle, and it secured us the best price.

10. Leave a legacy

Strong brands are worth more than generics. They add substantial value, sell for more multiples, attract more goodwill and leave a legacy. Once you’ve worked hard to build your brand, look after it well and defend it to the hilt.

This is an extract from ’25 Years, 25 Insights’, published by Piper Private Equity to mark its 25th anniversary. A specialist in consumer brands, Piper founded Pitcher & Piano and has helped grow businesses such as Boden, Las Iguanas and Maximuscle. To order a free copy of the book go to www.piperprivateequity.com

 

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