From Braces to Scaling Businesses: Jonathan Snow's Unconventional Route to E-commerce Mastery
My long time readers and followers on Twitter know that I love atypical things.
My career is atypical.
My life is atypical.
My online identity is definitely atypical. AND.
Dr. Jonathan Snow's career is also atypical.
While many know him as the owner of a digital marketing agency or his previous ecom companies, his journey began in a completely different field – Orthodontics.
I wanted to get him on my Substack so that you all can see that getting to success is NOT linear. How you define success when you get there may be completely different than how you’re defining it now. It’s not linear and there’s rarely a perfect answer to “How do I get there?”.
Jonathan is smart and has the ecom resume to prove it. You’d do well to follow him on Twitter & read what he puts out.
The other amazing aspect of his story is the sheer speed of his execution. A ton of people have been reading me for a year talking about “As soon as X is over, I’m going to start!”
Guess what. There’s always another X. There’s always going to be another excuse for you not to start.
Here’s Jonathan’s Story:
(with a few edits by me)
It all started in 2014 when I graduated dental school in NJ.
I started my career as a dentist in the US Air Force. I was shipped off to Shreveport, Louisiana. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this area…it’s in the middle of nowhere. Deep South. Where Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma all connect.
My days in the Air Force would start at 7am and end at 3pm.
As a single guy living in the middle of nowhere, I had absolutely nothing to do each day after work.
At the time, my brother Dan was building large organic social media pages (like @rap his biggest social property). He was getting deep into the organic social media community and had the idea to monetize social media pages that had substantial follower counts. He reached out to me to help bring this idea to life.
We ended up building an affiliate marketing platform that leveraged organic social pages as traffic sources (mostly influencer and publisher pages on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter).
We saw quick traction. In less than 2 years from launching, we drove 9 figures in revenue through the platform.
We then realized that we had massive leverage. An entire affiliate network with predictable traffic. What could we do next?
The answer was ecommerce.
We created an LLC, opened a business card and got started.
We launched our first brand together, a jewelry/accessory company. Fulfilled orders out of my garage.
My garage soon turned into a warehouse that I couldn’t even use to park my car.
That first brand ended up driving 7 figures in revenue within 6 months, profitably, all through our influencer network.
We then launched a second brand, this time a different niche: phone cases/accessories.
Different products, same results: 7 figures in revenue within 6 months. All through affiliate traffic.
Well, how do we get to 8 figures in revenue?
PAID MEDIA, that’s how.
We locked ourselves in during a long Memorial Day weekend and taught ourselves FB and Google Ads. Scaling paid media turned out to be way easier than scaling influencer deals. You could drive millions of impressions with the click of a button.
This was exciting.
We then launched our 3rd brand: this time in the shapewear/activewear niche.
8 figures in revenue the first year, with a strong profit margin.
We then began assembling a team to manage our fulfillment, influencer campaigns, media buying, creative and more.
We launched an office in NJ (while I was still in the Air Force in Louisiana) and outgrew our office 3x in the first year. Too many people, too much inventory. We were scaling and our office space couldn’t keep up. Good problems!
You’d be shocked to hear that I was still working as a dentist during all this chaos.
Making more money on this side gig than on the career I worked the prior 25 years to achieve. But this didn’t even feel like work, it was fun.
My Air Force career was finishing up, as I only had a 3 year commitment.
Opossum Fourth Wall Break: Do the math here. Three 7-8 figure businesses in 3 years while working a full time job. Stop being afraid of moving fast and breaking things. Scaling quickly can be scary at first but it’s exhilarating.
Well, I didn’t stop there.
Just because I had this flash-in-the pan success, doesn’t mean I was ready to walk away from the career I dedicated my whole life to.
It was my dream to become an Orthodontist. So I moved back to NYC and embarked on a 3-year residency program at a hospital in Brooklyn.
During this time, we launched more brands, built the team even bigger, secured our own 15,000 square foot warehouse, and now had 9 brands in our portfolio. All bootstrapped.
We were fulfilling thousands of orders per day.
THIS IS WHAT SCALING LOOKS LIKE!
During this time, we began building a reputation… the common sentiment was “man, these Snow brothers must be doing something right.”
Brands then started coming to us offering us a retainer and upside each month if we could apply the same marketing strategies and execute it on their brands.
We never intended to get into the client services industry, but hey we were up for a challenge and truly loved marketing and scaling. It got the juices flowing.
It felt like one big video game.
We took on our first client. Crushed it.
Then they referred a client. Then they referred us another client. & on and on.
Next thing you know, we had as many clients as we did brands of our own.
We were coming to an inflection point… we had to decide which side we wanted to be on: brand or agency - 2 totally different business models.
We chose the agency side.
We weren’t too passionate about the brands or products we were selling, we just really loved the marketing and growth hacking. We actually disliked the operations of running our own brands at scale: logistics, supply chain, fulfillment, call centers.
Transitioning to the agency side seemed like the best move based on our passion.
We ended up selling our brands to focus on building out the agency back in September of 2019.
Since we were on the brand side and managed every marketing lever ourselves, with our own money and team, we had a unique perspective that most other agencies simply did not possess. We had a competitive advantage. It’s not easy being a full-service agency, but since we managed everything in house across numerous brands, it was already built naturally and we excelled at it.
Throughout all of this, I was still a full-time hospital employee in the middle of my journey becoming a dental specialist.
I had a nice 4 hour round trip commute to and from Brooklyn from NJ where I lived. I leveraged this time to manage teams, respond to emails, build SOPs, and more.
As I was wrapping up my 3-year residency program, I was ready to start my own Orthodontic practice. I was under contract to buy an office in the Bronx, NY.
COVID hit the next week during due diligence. Everything in NYC shut down.
Especially for elective medical treatment like fixing people’s smiles. Who knew when it would be able to reopen full-time and to what capacity.
I pulled out of the deal.
I focused on the agency, as I literally couldn’t even practice if I wanted to thanks to COVID and restrictive NYC policies.
By the time things opened back up months later, the agency was double the size. Over 30 full-time employees.
Fast forward to now, I haven’t treated a patient since COVID.
I moved down to Miami to escape the cold and restrictive environment of the northeast and no better place for the opposite vibe than Miami.
The agency really took off.
We had done good work, we were good to people.
Sounds simple, but that’s the recipe for business success.
We are now 1 of only 15 Shopify Plus partners in the United States for Paid Social, among the other services we offer. We’re 1 of only a handful of official TikTok Shop partners (my most bullish efficient growth channel for 2024 & beyond). Last year we were named the Inc. 5000 #2 Fastest Growing Marketing/Advertising Company in the US.
We sold the agency a year ago.
I’m still full-time with the business since we are still in the early innings of this ecommerce game. I had the opportunity to partner up with an industry veteran that has over $500M in agency exits on his own and build the next big agency with The Snow Agency as the foundation. I’m still running The Snow Agency, but also serve as Chief Innovation Officer at the parent company, Avenue Z.
As you can see, success is not linear. Journeys are unpredictable.
But, if you remain committed and passionate about what you’re doing, you’ll generate life-changing outcomes. You also need to be honest with yourself, be flexible, and don’t be afraid or slow to pivot when you have conviction about something.
People often ask me how I could leave a career as a dental specialist that took 11 years of higher education excellence to achieve. It wasn’t easy. But it was the right move; personally and financially.
While I shifted careers, it’s not like it all went to waste. Everything I learned and experienced in the Air Force and as a medical provider gave me a strong foundation that I now leverage in the business world.
In the high-pressure environment of Orthodontics, I honed skills in rapid problem-solving and meticulous attention to detail. Managing dozens of patients daily, each with unique needs, mirrored the challenges of crafting tailored marketing strategies for varied brands.
It’s all problem-solving.
My disciplined schedule in the Air Force instilled habits that aligned with entrepreneurial success. My early-morning wake-up routine became a catalyst for embracing opportunities in the burgeoning e-commerce sector, leading to several successful ventures and exits.
Here’s the cheat code: do work that doesn’t feel like work. Do something that gets you excited. Leverage the learnings of your life experiences. Surround yourself with smart people. The results will follow.
If you got this far in this long-winded narrative, chances are you’re already doing the right things and I have faith in you.
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I've always prioritized learning and staying ahead. It's become a competitive advantage. Surrounding yourself with optimal information inputs takes years. I've done the hard work so you don't have to. Main objective is to help anyone in DTC stay informed and ahead of the game in under 5 minutes per week.
Look forward to connecting with you all!
Disclaimer: Nothing written here should be construed as legal for financial advice of any kind. These are opinions and observations, written by an anonymous cartoon Opossum, built up over years working in e-commerce & affiliate marketing.