What does it really take to make it when the bar is set so high? This week we grabbed the Health Bar Queen, Jen Thompson from Naked Paleo to learn more about the how of running a successful food product biz. What are the unique challenges when you scale a foodie passion the next level? Jen shares the whole truth of the highs and lows and juicy gold nuggets that come from trial and error in the fast lane.
OC: Where are you + what time is it?
JT: The first time I started – 11am Monday at our warehouse/office
The second time I started – 1.53pm Monday at our warehouse/office
The third time I worked on it and finished it! – 12.20pm Thursday at our warehouse/office
OC: Million dollar question – what do you guys DO?
JT: We create and sell health-conscious, tasty products designed around our beliefs of the paleo lifestyle. That is a very broad sentence for what I do. My day can involve anything from recipe development to sale pitches, driving our delivery van to trying to Youtubing how to make Adobe Illustrator do something.
OC: Straight to the heart – what do you LOVE about your biz?
JT: How much a get to learn about stuff I have absolutely no idea about. When we (me and my partner Blake) started Naked Paleo we had no clue about running a business let alone sourcing ingredients, pricing structures, packaging materials, distribution… and the list goes on. But now I can talk confidently about a lot of those things because we’ve had to learn the hard way and that way stuff gets properly ingrained in your brain.
I’ve been able to explore what I truly love in business and (kind of) chose what job I want to focus on based on what I enjoy the most and what I’m best at. That doesn’t mean I get to ignore the stuff I don’t like right now but that’s the ultimate goal right?!
OC: Now we get real. What have you had to trade, to sacrifice, to do what you love everyday?
JT: Brain space. My brain feels full 95% of the time and sometimes when we get home from a long day I have nothing. No chat, no dinner making skills, nothing. And usually that can roll into an over-active brain at 3am full of ideas and not wanting to sleep. I’ve learned over the years that I can’t do it all, especially now being pregnant, I’m learning to slow down which is actually really hard when you’re used to doing everything.
I guess you sacrifice the ‘security’ of a paycheck every week but really when you look at it, who really has security with their paycheck? At least I know if I’m going out of business and it won’t be a surprise. Plus, there is no limit to my paycheck. It’s up to me really.
OC: When you have your quiet moments, what makes you feel genuinely happy?
JT: A clean house (I actually really like housework), good food either cooked by me or eating out and time spent with friends. And chardonnay ha! I feel like I had just discovered my true love for chardonnay right before I got pregnant, bummer.
OC: Share a moment that felt like, “YES I’m winning!”
JT: Finally launching our second bar flavor after sitting with just one flavor for 2 years. From the day we started selling our original product customers would ask, “What’s next?” “ When’s the next flavor?” “ Why don’t you have more products?” and at the beginning it was awesome to think people loved what we were doing so much that they were excited about what was to come. But after a year it became stressful. We wanted to be able to do so many things but we were stuck. We didn’t have enough manpower to make a second flavor let alone money to back it. We were in our kitchen 6 days a week and the other day was for deliveries. We began to HATE production day. It was crushing our bodies physically and the stress of not being able to focus on business growth got too much. After months of talking, emails, test samples, money spent we finally found a company who could produce our product for us so we could free up our time. It was incredibly hard to find a company to do this for us and it took probably the guts of a year to finalise. But once it was done we were free to expand. The feeling was strange. All of a sudden our days were empty and we thought it would feel amazing. It didn’t. We didn’t know what our roles in the business were.. All of a sudden we had nothing on the to-do list. We had to figure out what our jobs were. It didn’t take long and now we have quite clear roles in the business that fell into place naturally based on our skills.
Once the first bar was outsourced the fun began again and we could start testing and developing the second flavor and now we have 3 product lines with more in the works and we’ve never looked back.
OC: Now share a moment that felt like, “Why am I doing this again?”
JT: When you first start a business like ours it’s hard to decide what is a good promotional event and what’s not. And there’s no shortage of people asking you for donations and freebies, which I love. It’s awesome that people look to us as a company they would like for an event but majority of the time it just doesn’t really pay off.
In our first year of business we took a gamble to try and get our product out there and accepted a promotional gig that required us donating 2000 bars. At the time we were hand making, packaging, date stamping and sealing all of our bars. It was a massive task and on top of our huge schedule during each week already it took a lot of careful planning.
Low point number 1 in this story, our packaging leaked. We packaged 2000 bars which took us 2 weeks to then start boxing them and find that oil from the bars was leaking out onto our paper packaging. Shit. After a lot of panic and tears our glorious friends rallied around into our little apartment and started going through all the product, digging out the bad ones, boxing the goods ones and generally making us smile. Finally we got the product out the door.
Low point number 2, we received a call from the organiser of the event we were supplying. We have forgotten to change the year on our date stamp and everything had an incorrect best before date. More tears, more swearing and more stress. We had 2 days to sort this out. So off we go, to a warehouse, in the middle of December in the heat, to stand for 8 hours, re-stamping everything. I have never been happier to see the back of 2000 bars that didn’t really make us a lot of money.
The lesson. Sometimes the big promotions are not worth the time and stress. The time we spent on doing all that work could have been spent talking to our existing customers, visiting new cafes, hell maybe even just resting.
OC: How did you navigate that? What mental shift happened for you?
JT: That we would get through it. It was only time and we were our own bosses. And everyone genuinely wanted to help us all we had to do was ask.
OC: What’s your coffee religion and how do you worship?
JT: I’m off coffee at the moment but it would usually be a long black. I’m probably drinking way too many hot chocolates and turmeric lattes.
OC: What kick ass daily habits do you have that would make Tim Ferris jealous?
JT: In bed by 9pm no matter what time I’m getting up. So rock and roll.
Always, always eat breakfast. You don’t want to meet me if I haven’t eaten breakfast but that’s ok because it very rarely happens.
OC: How do you switch the light on in the ideas factory?
JT: Usually tell myself we don’t have enough money to create something new and then the ideas will just pour out of my brain haha. But really, my issue is not lack of ideas; it’s probably focusing on just one and making it work.
OC: If you could jump in a time machine and advise your startup biz self – what would you say?
JT: I struggle with this question. I really love the way our business has evolved. Of course we’ve made decisions that could have been executed better and maybe I’ve cried too many times but we have learned so much in such a short space of time and by getting them wrong it has usually sent us in another direction and we discover something else really useful or met someone who can help us with something else.
OC: What biz advice would you give a fellow dreamer making the leap into their own thing?
JT: Learn the boring stuff at the beginning. I hate math. I get stressed at the mere thought of taxes and I ignored that side of the business for a long time. Thankfully it was never too late but it just meant that when we were forced to sit down, crunch numbers, look at sales etc.… it all felt so alien and really not fun. If I had started at the beginning when the numbers were small and manageable it would have been so much easier. I’ll admit I have kind of passed this role on to Blake because it is not my strong point but at least I know what’s he’s talking about now when he needs to make decisions.
As hard as it is, don’t compare yourself to others. It can be incredibly hard to not scroll through Instagram and check out other businesses doing similar things and become unhappy because you feel like they are killing it and you are lagging behind. Here’s the secret, no one is really killing it as much as you think. Every business has it’s struggles, they just don’t plaster it all over social media therefore you only see a little snap-shot of their awesome life. And no one really knows what they’re doing. Seriously. We’re all making it up as we go along, making uneducated guesses at stuff, asking questions, shutting our eyes and hoping it works out. Sometimes it does, sometimes it really doesn’t but whatever happens, you learn from it and it was meant to lead you to whatever point you’re at at that moment.
OC: What’s on your plate comin’ up and how tasty will it be?
JT: Craziness! We hope to finalise our third bar flavor, have a huge couple market days to get ready for, find more customers and oh yeh, have our first baby at the beginning of December. So right now I’m just hoping I keep on feeling as good as I do at the moment and get as much work done as possible before life is changed forever.
OC: 3 words that describe you. No thinking, just from the gut.
JT: Creative, stubborn, inspiring
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