"We kept trying a million different ways to market the same products," laments Louis, who would sit at his computer in his home office, working from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m., he says, for days in a row. Ironically, but hardly surprisingly, Louis says he gained a few pounds and didn't get much exercise-all the while putting together a company selling health to others.
"We spent a lot of money on advertising," Louis groans. "Everybody told us, 'You have to spend money on banners! Banners is where it's at.' So we tested on all sorts of banner networks. People told us, 'If you do a banner, you get 2 percent click-through, and 1 percent of those buy, and that's how you get your money.'"
"Well," Louis says, taking a deep breath, "on paper, those numbers work. But we tested and tested, and that wasn't the reality. The reality was, we were lucky to get .5 percent click-through and .25 percent buying." So that would account for that sale in September.
But their biggest problem, says Louis again, is that "we were trying to sell all products for all people."
Meanwhile, the competition intensified, with names like drkoop.com (Dr. C. Everett Koop's Web site) and drugstore.com. "These were people with $200 million in the bank to compete against," Louis says.
With a wife and a son to support, and another on the way, there were days Louis would get frustrated, but he says Shelley always infused him with energy and optimism. If she was ever dejected, he never saw it.
But by October, with only a handful of sales, and plenty of their money down the drain, even Shelley realized their business couldn't continue like this. "We were almost ready to close the doors," says Louis. And that's when Shelley started taking a serious look at their health-care product competitors.
Not long after, Louis says, Shelley had a revelation. "She said, 'This is crazy. There's nowhere online that's a health site exclusively for women, where you can get women's health tips and beauty tips, and articles on women's health issues and women-specific products-PMS, menopause and sex drive and everything.' We ran with her idea, and it just took off."
They launched their new, revamped company with a product Shelley had learned about: Vimaca, which had in its ingredients a 2,000-year-old herb that was said to increase women's sex drives.
"Forget the regular products," Shelley told her husband. "You have to find a niche and specialize in carrying hard-to-find things."
They came up with a new name and a brand-new approach to their company: Health4her.com. In November 1999, they brought in $150. The next month: $2,000. A business was born.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.