The ‘joke’ product raking in millions
A Gold Coast entrepreneur, who was forced to quit her job as a lawyer due to a chronic illness, has turned her new-found love of health and fitness into a multimillion-dollar viral success story.
Charlie Ercan, 30, founded online health store Unique Muscle in 2014 after being diagnosed with severe endometriosis, a uterine condition that causes debilitating pain and affects roughly one in 10 women.
"It actually stops a lot of women's careers due to the side effects and symptoms they experience - I constantly had to take sick days off, I basically couldn't do my work," said Ms Ercan who this week was named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
"I instinctively always knew that my diet was playing a role in that, so I began pulling on that thread, researching about health and wellness in general, which led me to where we are today."
After leaving her immigration law job she "pretty much had no money" and had to move into her grandma's spare room. Ms Ercan and partner Daniel Papanikolaou, 30, started Unique Muscle from a computer at the Helensvale Library.
"We built everything ourselves, drew up our own labels, everything from scratch," she said. "We started with a small initial order from (a supplier) who took a chance on us. We became their biggest customer."
Unique Muscle sells a range of products focused on "nourishing and caring for the body using only natural and vegan nutritional products".
Ms Ercan's passion is not just "trying to make people skinnier" but about helping people "take control of their own health and find what foods and diets work for them".
"It's not one-size-fits-all, that's what I've found with my own journey," she said. "We sell a whole range of products to suit different goals - skin, hair, nails, gut health, general wellness. We have a coffee range, a protein range."
But its best-selling product - Unicorn Water - actually started as a "joke".
Unicorn Water's main ingredient is Acetyl-L-Carnitine, a natural fat metaboliser that helps the body use stored fat as a fuel source during a workout.
"It's actually a funny story," Ms Ercan said. "The product inside the Unicorn Water bottle is actually called Slim It. We had done a post on social media sort of as a joke with a bottle that had 'Unicorn Water' on it with our drink inside that."
Immediately they were "flooded with people asking us where they can buy the bottle". "I was like, maybe we should sell the bottle," she said.
"Within a couple of months we got the bottle to market and basically marketed the product as Unicorn Water after that. It just took off, it definitely went viral. As soon as we released it we sold out of it so many times. We'd bring in like 20,000 bottles at a time and just kept selling out. We just couldn't keep up with demand."
Ms Ercan said some customers bought repeat bottles and others refilled them using the Slim It powder. "We have customers that have six or seven bottles, but we do have a lot of first-time customers," she said.
Today, Unicorn Water is Unique Muscle's top-selling product, although Ms Ercan declined to reveal revenue.
"We don't want to release revenue figures until we've reached a certain milestone we're aiming towards, but I can confirm the business makes multimillion-dollar revenue," she said.
Unicorn Water is popular among Instagram influencers and fitness models, while Unique Muscle has amassed more than 63,000 followers.
It comes as the company launches its US website with plans to partner with a US-based fulfilment centre. Currently, its products are manufactured in Brisbane and distributed via a Sydney fulfilment centre.
Unique Muscle now employs three full-time staff in Australia and three online support staff based overseas.
Ms Ercan said their new Skin Berries product, a "game-changing" plant-based natural collagen builder, was also proving popular as was their healthy brownie mix.
"We started selling it about eight months ago," she said.
"It's a guilt-free brownie mix, gluten free and vegan, that also created its own little cult following. Normally guilt-free brownies are really gross, but we spent close to two years formulating it."
Meanwhile, Ms Ercan has amassed more than 21,000 followers for her endometriosis-focused social media presence, @endobeehive, which she says is reflective of the estimated 700,000 Australian women and girls suffering from the disorder.
"It's taken off like wildfire," she said.
"I've been getting a lot of eyes on that page lately. I think it's a good cause, there's basically no cure for it currently. It's actually a really common disease a lot of people might not know they have - that's why awareness is so important."
Symptoms include pelvic pain, fatigue, painful sex, vomiting, back pain and "brain fog". "I ended up in ER, and that's where I sort of discovered it," Mr Ercan said.
While there's no known cure, she says diet changes can make a big difference. "Avoiding inflammatory foods like coffee, dairy, wheat products, I found there were a whole bunch of inflammatory foods that didn't work for me," she said.
"I've put that in a free guide. I've already gotten so much feedback from people saying it's helped them so much, it's changed their pain scale."