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Small businesses can do big things. In this new series of videos, we will look into small businesses in Australia—their humble beginnings, their growth story, and the lessons that we can learn from them.

Today, we will look into the story of Whole Kids, a family-owned organic snack small business based in Melbourne.

Their story

Whole Kids launched their first organic snack range in 2005 in response to a gap in the market. The couple, Monica and James Meldrum, who at that time were not yet parents, could not find delicious and healthy snacks to buy for their nieces and nephews. They found that the range of “healthy” snacks available in the market at that time were not necessarily healthy—they thought many of them were filled with potentially harmful preservatives and were poor in nutrients.

They decided to create their own range of snacks that focused on nutrition and also making sure that they were free from common allergens. The Meldrums spoke to organic growers in Australia and worked with a dietitian at the Royal Children’s to understand what some allergies were.

They also decided early on about what kind of business they were going to set up. They wanted a business that focused on healthy products, on having an impact in the community, and on sustaining a small, family-run business that is fun, friendly, and fulfilling.

In the beginning, the Meldrums worked more intuitively. As the business expanded, the couple wanted to articulate their purpose and values in a statement, and so they engaged a consultant to help them formalise their statement.

Their values and purpose reflect on how they recruit talent and how they source suppliers. They recruit and source based on how they fit with their values and align with their purpose. This, in turn, helped them focus on what they are best at, which is product development and marketing. By working with competent employees and by outsourcing work to suppliers who share their values, they are able to keep their operations small, nimble and family-run—the kind of business they set out to build and nurture.

Today, after using AU$100,000 in savings meant for a deposit on a house, Whole Kids is Australia’s largest certified organic snacks manufacturer for children with an estimated annual turnover of at least AU$6 million. It exports to the Middle East, South East Asia, and most recently, China.

Monica Meldrum is considered as one of the country’s most influential female entrepreneur. And yet they still consider themselves a small, family-run business competing with large, multinational corporations. To date, they supply large orders of kid snacks to large airlines, such as Jetstar and Qantas.

What we can learn

Their business model—that is, small operations catering to large corporations—presents unique challenges, which I think that small business owners, such as you, would be able to relate to and even appreciate.

Here are three lessons that the Meldrums share about running Whole Kids:

(1) Be honest with your customers

Any business will run into supply issues—but because Whole Kids work with organic and seasonal ingredients, ensuring a stable supply of raw ingredients makes it even more challenging.

Whole Kids work with fresh natural and organic ingredients, taking into account not just overall nutrition but also common allergens. Some items are seasonal and some items need to pass certain standards—so they can run into supply challenges. This means that they may not always supply the same product in every flight or that they can deliver large batches of particular product units all the time.

What do Whole Kids do? They communicate closely with their clients.

With any supply issues you think you may run into, give your customers a heads-up – it’s much easier to work through that than be caught out last-minute.”

(2) Do the research

When launching a business, especially one that tries to cater to gaps in the market, it is important to understand what the market truly wants in order to create and supply the right product or service. In the case of Whole Kids, the founders spent a lot of time and effort in understanding not just their market, but also ingredients and processes that may affect their product offerings.

Because I spent two to three years researching the market, I understood what ingredients were available and what product gaps there were. It enabled me to launch the product and minimise the risk.”

 (3) Focus on what you are good at and delegate the rest

The founders of Whole Kids are parents to a young family. The operations of Whole Kids remain family-owned and small. In the early stages of the business, their impressive growth stretched them out too thinly. So the couple decided to focus on their core competencies, product development and marketing, and to delegate to other people who specialised in warehousing and distribution.

We immediately thought we needed a warehouse and needed a good distributor and took that on ourselves but it stretched us really thin. We realised there were other businesses that could oversee that side of the operation better than we could. At the five-year mark, we realised we could do things smarter so we could focus on the marketing and the products and leave distribution to someone else."

One other notable thing that Whole Kids focuses on is their vision. They are an example of a small, family-owned business that has a clear vision of what they want to be, what they want to do, and where they want to go—and one that keeps to that vision to drive their growth.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

Small businesses can do big things. In this new series of videos, I would like to explore success stories of small businesses in Australia and what we can learn from them.

In this video, I share with you the story of Over The Moo ice cream.

The backstory

Over The Moo is a dairy-free ice cream business and the brainchild of entrepreneur Alex Houseman. Houseman created his business out of his own personal need. He loves ice cream but is sadly lactose intolerant. While dairy-free ice cream is available in the market, he felt that there wasn’t any product that could deliver indulgent and delicious flavor at an affordable price. This led him to develop his own dairy-free ice cream made from coconut milk.

Over The Moo is Houseman’s first business. He quickly recognised that he needed money, advice, and exposure to make it a success. He decided to seek funding in Australia’s version of Shark Tank. In the show, he received three offers but eventually walked away without a deal.

One of the concerns of the judges in Shark Tank during the Over The Moo pitch was that Houseman had not yet trademarked his recipe. Seeing the wisdom in the judges’ advice about owning his ice cream recipe, he immediately worked on fixing this intellectual property issue after the filming wrapped.

However, Houseman’s main concern with the judges’ offers were that they were lower than what he was willing to accept. It was unfortunate that the show was filmed before Over The Moo began appearing on Woolworths’ shelves. Since the judges didn’t take into consideration this particularly important business milestone, their valuation for Over The Moo was lower than Houseman’s own valuation for his business.

As of 2018, Over The Moo was available in 2200 stores, that include Cole’s, Woolworths, and IGA supermarkets. Despite a wide distribution, it maintains a lean business model of just three full-time staff.

What we can learn

1. Hard work and strategic planning pays

Houseman is a former marketing consultant, but it proved to be a difficult sell in the beginning. Houseman approached every supermarket and tried hard to convince them to carry his brand on their shelves. He started with independent supermarkets and eventually made strides toward large chains. His hard work, strategy, and very good ice cream proved to be a recipe for his current success.

Houseman said in an interview, “As I have learnt, a successful business is only one per cent good idea, and 99 per cent hard work and commitment.” This rings true for any business, but moreso for a business operating in a very competitive industry.

The ice cream business in Australia is a AU$1.1 billion industry dominated by major players such as Unilever and Baskin-Robbins. While Over The Moo is considered vegan ice cream, Houseman does not consider it as a health product as it contains the same amount of fat and sugar as a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. This is to deliver the same indulgent flavor as regular ice cream to those with special dietary needs. Its product caters to a very specific niche: those who are lactose-intolerant or who follow a plant-based diet looking for a sweet, indulgent treat.

2. Check your cash flow

After Shark Tank, Over The Moo earned a gross profit of $1 million, but its net profit was zero. Houseman’s initial spending went to growing and expanding distribution.

Houseman confessed that he was lax with cash flow in the beginning. When he felt that this became an issue, he sought advice from other people and created an advisory board. He also took short courses on financial management. His efforts paid off.

Houseman consistenly advises having a tight watch on cash flow in his interviews. He says of his early experience with the business,

“I wish I’d known earlier how to forecast cash flow better. It’s terrible when you put all that effort into growing and promoting the business, then don’t have the cash flow to keep up.”

“At our worst, we had literally $45 in our bank account. All the while we have thousands of dollars in wages and product expenses every month. Being able to balance growth versus cash in the bank is the most important thing I have learnt regarding starting Over The Moo.'”

In my video, Allow Sales to Trump Everything, I share why cash flow management is important and how a fast growing business experiencing record sales could get into trouble if it does not manage its cash flow problems.

3. Fine-tune your product, and make sure you own it

It took Houseman 4 to 5 months of research and product development to get his ice cream recipe right. But despite doing all of the work developing the recipe, he initially shared the intellectual property of the recipes with the manufacturer he worked with. After failing to get a deal on the show and seeing that the ambiguity in the IP could become a costly issue, he immediately took the necessary steps to ensure that he had full ownership of his ice cream.

Houseman also knew how much his business was worth in his mind.  He was willing to listen to other people (i.e the Judges in Shark Tank) and was able to make an educated decision on the business value and decided not to take up their offer.  He probably knew that his product was going to go into the shelves of the major supermarkets, but could not yet reveal it to the judges at that time due to confidentiality issues.

Having said that, I have also met business owners who have inflated values of their business that were not based on market valuations. You need to be aware about the difference between your valuation of the business and how the market values your product—and you need to learn how NOT to get emotional in the process.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

Small businesses can do big things. In this new series of videos, we will look into small businesses in Australia—their humble beginnings, their growth story, and the lessons that we can learn from them.

Today, we will look into the story of Billie Goat Soap and its founder, Leanne Faulkner.

Their story

Leanne Faulkner, whose youngest son was born with eczema, is the creator and founder of Billie Goat Soap. Her young son used steroids to treat eczema, and she was concerned about the effects of long-term steroid use. This led her to do research on how to naturally treat and manage eczema.

Faulkner described herself as a frustrated farmer—her family owned a few acres of land and had dairy goats in the property. She researched about the benefits of goat’s milk in treating eczema, learned how to make soap from goat’s milk and natural oils, and used her homemade soaps on her son. Seeing the results on her son spurred her to start her goats milk soap company in 2005.

Faulkner used her communication and selling skills to bring the first batches of Billie Goat Soap into the market. She was very strategic on who, when, and how to approach about her product. She started introducing her products to health food stores, then farmers markets, then retail and gift stores, and finally to department stores.

Faulkner worked in organisational development and employee training prior to starting her company, and she used her background to grow her sales team. As a small company, she didn’t have the resources to put a sales consultant in every store. Instead, she trained the sales personnel in the retail stores that carried her product. She built strong relations with these sales people, even going so far as sending a bouquet of edible blooms in every counter with a personal card attached.

By working and leveraging on available resources, Billie Goat Soap grew and sold across Australia. It also successfully expanded its product line to include balms, skin care, and even a baby care line. At its peak, Billie Goat Soap turned over AU$2.4 million annually.

Unfortunately, a stress-fueled breakdown brought by a retail slump and the demands of running a small business led Faulkner to step down from her post and sell her company to The Heat Group in 2012. Today, Faulkner advocates for moremental health resources to support small business owners.

What can we learn

Not all small businesses have a happy ending, but there are lessons that we can learn from Billie Goat Soap’s story.

(1) Forecast what is needed to grow

Faulkner advices small business owners to plan appropriately for growth—specifically, having the right amount of funding to drive business development and expansion. While funding is important, I think the example of Billie Goat Soap also shows that having the right skills, such as management and leadership skills, is also very crucial.

And so, when we plan for growth, we need to also consider the resources needed to grow. In my video, When does your business benefit from seeking professional advice? (link forthcoming—not yet published), I share advice from Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, who believes that planning to grow entails planning to hire or work with people who have the skill base and experience that matches your growth objectives.

(2) Communicate to your employees, to your customers, and to your suppliers

Clear communication helps to ensure that anyone connected to the business knows what the goals are and understands how the business aims to achieve them.”

Build a relationship with the people you work with. In Faulkner’s case, she took the effort to build strong relationships with the sales people working in the retail stores who played a major part in growing the revenue of the company.

How can you continue to build strong relationships with your employees, your customers, and your suppliers?

(3) Look after yourself

Faulkner is an advocate of mental health. She has been vocal about her stress and anxiety—and how this affected her mental health in 2011.

In my video, Overcoming Entrepreneurial Exhaustion, I discuss three things that entrepreneurs and business owners can do to overcome exhaustion. That said, mental health is a medical issue. Whilst we expect to look out for and manage stress that comes with operating a business, bringing consultants and expending your team can help in many areas. But there are instances when stress starts to change who you are.

If you feel that the stress of running a business is getting to you, please seek help from a professional because they are trained to listen unconditionally and provide much needed intervention.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

While reality shows seem to feature fantasy over reality, I find it very interesting when motivated and hardworking entrepreneurs become the subject of a long-running reality show like Shark Tank. Running for 10 years already, the Shark Tank in the United States has produced many successful ventures that turns over millions of dollars annually.

In this video, I explore what small business owners like you and me can learn from successful entrepreneurs of Shark Tank.

In two previous videos, we discussed certain prominent judges of the US version of Shark Tank and the lessons we can learn from them (link forthcoming).

This time, I explore lessons from two of the most successful business ventures to come out of that series—and one venture that failed to seal a deal with a Shark but became one of the most successful companies to come out of Shark Tank, and was later bought by Amazon for more than US$1 billion in 2018.

Lesson from Scrub Daddy: Provide a solution to a pain point

Aaron Krause is the founder and inventor of Scrub Daddy, a non-scratching reusable sponge that made cleaning very easy, thanks to the scrub’s characteristics. He developed his first scrub in 2006, but failed to secure any sales, and so sold most of his sponges to the 3M Company as scraps. In 2011, in need of sponges to clean off his own lawn furniture, he discovered that his special sponges got the job done without scratching any surface.

In 2012, he went into the Shark Tank and secured a deal with Lori Greiner. To date, Scrub Daddy has made more than US$50 million since its pitch.

Scrub Daddy provides a simple solution to an everyday problem. It makes cleaning easy. But that’s not all—the product has also been lab tested to rinse clear of debris and resist odors for up to two months. Krause and Greiner, both inventors, have said it again and again—successful products are ones that provide easy solutions to your customer’s pain points.

It all boils down to your customers. How can you help them? How do your products and services minimise or even eliminate their pain points? How can you improve the products and services you offer today to make sure that you provide a better solution to your customers’ pain points?

Lesson from Tipsy Elves: Identify risks and diversify

Founded by college friends Evan Mendelsohn and Nicklaus Morton, Tipsy Elves started out as a company that designed and sold ugly Christmas sweaters. The company differentiated themselves from other ugly sweater creators by using higher quality materials and also by teaming up with Save the Children, an American non-profit organisation, in dedicating a portion of their profits to providing underprivileged American children with winter clothing. After their pitch, they partnered with Robert Herjavec.

One of the risks that Herjavec and the founders of Tipsy Elves identified from the very beginning is the seasonality of the product—it only came out during a few months in the year. So one of the things that they immediately worked on was diversifying their product line so that the company has business the entire year. They have since expanded to over twenty clothing categories, including Hawaiian shirts and swim trunks, patriotic clothing, and Halloween costumes. Since their pitch in 2014, the company has seen more than US$50 million in revenue.

Most, if not all businesses experience business cycles—and throughout the year, there will be lean months and there will be months when we see a lot of business.

The question you should ask yourself is, how can you diversify so that you can have more business during the lean months? What can you do so that you can extend your busy months?

Lesson from Ring: Have a focused vision

In 2013, Jamie Siminoff pitched his product, then called Doorbot, a doorbell with a camera that sent video to users' smartphones. Despite having made solid sales for Doorbot, Siminoff walked away without a deal. His appearance in Shark Tank only increased interest for his doorbell camera, but this is a story of overcoming many challenges.

The first set of Doorbots he launched into the market produced poor video quality and had spotty WiFi capabilities. Siminoff had to spend 9 months responding to customer complaints. Funding also continued to be a challenge.

But Siminoff was motivated by his purpose: to make neighborhoods safer for everyone. He designed his smart doorbell because his wife had difficulty hearing when someone rang the doorbell and also because of his own concerns for home security. While there were smart doorbells in the market, it did not provide the benefits that he wanted from one.

So he pushed forward. Eventually, he was able to work with a manufacturer who could improve the quality of his doorbells. He also found partners to work with, one of whom suggested to change the name from Doorbot to a simpler name, Ring, that had a better recall.

He was also introduced to Richard Branson who lead the last round of funding for the company. In case you did not know, Branson sometimes appears as a guest judge on the Shark Tank. You could say that Siminoff eventually walked away with a deal from a Shark.

In 2018, Ring was bought by Amazon for US$1 billion.

When things became difficult, Siminoff held on to his purpose and his vision for the company. He was specifically motivated by his desire to provide a solution for an important pain point: home security—much like how Scrub Daddy offers a solution for a pain point in home cleaning. And Ring itself has diversified, offering other complementary home security products—much like how Tipsy Elves diversified their product lines.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

What can the judges of Shark Tank teach small business owners? It turns out, a lot. In part two of this two-part video, I share some of their best pointers, explore the wisdom behind their advice and offer tips on how we can apply their advice to our daily lives.

Shark Tank is a reality TV show that originated from the United States. Budding entrepreneurs get the chance to pitch their business ideas to investors in the panel—the so-called Sharks in the Tank.

In part 1, I explored business advice shared by the male Sharks: Robert Herjavec, Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary. In this episode, I now share wisdom from the female Sharks. Here’s what they have to say.

Lori Greiner: Do the market research yourself

Lori Greiner is an American inventor and entrepreneur. In 1996, she created and patented her first product, which was eventually picked up by a large retailer and started her entrepreneurial career. She is involved in venture capital investing, product design consulting, and television production. Her net worth stands at US$100 million.

What she does: Before Greiner launched her first product, an earring organiser, to the market, she did her own market research. She didn’t just rely on family and frieds to give her feedback. She went to all different neighborhoods and showed a prototype to people on the street. Then, she asked them to fill out a simple, basic questionnaire: Would you buy this? How much would you pay for it? Do you like it? From those responses, she knew that she had a product that she could sell.

Why she thinks this advice is important: Greiner believes that every successful product addresses a need or a pain point. This is why market research is important—because it allows you, the business owner, to understand what your customers want.

What happened: Doing her own market research paid off. Her earring organiser sold out in 4 minutes after showing it in home TV shopping show.

Greiner teaches us that the success of any product or business lies in our understanding of our customers. We cannot offer a product or a solution to their pain point if we don’t understand their problems. Greiner also teaches us that we cannot rely on other people to find out about our customer pain points. To understand what our customers want and need, we need to consistently communicate with them. When we listen to our customers and we find ways to address their concerns through our products and services, then we are likely to retain them, which will help grow our business further.

In my video, “How to find out what customers want,” I share 3 ways on how to find out what your customers want and need—and it all boils down to communicating and listening intently what your customers are saying.

Barbara Corcoran: Take time to have fun

Barbara Corcoran is a real estate mogul, who began her career in 1970s. She co-founded her first real estate company with her then-boyfriend in 1973, and eventually formed The Corcoran Group when they split. In 2001, she sold her business for US$66 million. Her net worth stands at US$80 million.

What she does: Corcoran loves taking vacations and planning for fun. She plans get togethers with friends. And her secret to solving a creativity block? Going out to a great store, going to a museum, or riding her bike in Central Park in New York City where she lives.

Why she thinks this advice is important: Corcoran believes that having fun prevents burnouts. And doing something other than sitting on a desk makes you creative. And even when her busy schedule prevents her from taking a long vacation, getting together with friends gives her a “mental vacation,” that she says has helped her manage stress.

What happened: Her impressive work ethic matched by her ability to keep herself creative has made her one of the most successful women in the USA.

Corcoran describes herself as a very focused business person, which is why she was able to build an empire. But she also recognises the importance of recovering from stressful days by making time for fun—in her words, taking a “mental vacation” that takes her away from work. The key is to acknowledge that business owners are people—we are not robots that can work 24/7 all of the time. And even then, robots and machines need their downtime, too, for maintenance. We need to be in tiptop shape if we want to operate at peak levels, which means we need to make time for rest and recreation, too. 

In my video, “Maximising the best asset in your business,” I explore how business owners can step back from the daily grind but still be able to productive. The key is to rest and to find ways to spark creativity.

Sara Blakely: Start with “Why” and continue to lead with “Why?”

Sara Blakely is known worldwide as the woman behind Spanx, an American intimate apparel company, which she founded in 2000. Her net worth stands at US$1.1 billion.

What she does: When starting out a business, focus on why you set out to do this in the first place. Focus on the personal and professional goals that you wanted to achieve—and what made you desire to be in the business that you are in.

Why she thinks this advice is important: Your desire points to a purpose. And your purpose provides a motivation and a direction to continue on when the going gets tough.

What happened: Sara Blakely is inventor and founder of Spanx—like Greiner, she began her career as an entrepreneur with a single product that she knew would address a customer pain point. In the early stages of Spanx, she acknowledges how difficult it was to find a company that would sell her product. When the going got tough for her, she focuses on her “why” to get her going.

Blakely expresses what we all need to succeed: purpose. Why are we doing what we do? The simple question makes it easy to see whether our decisions, our actions, and even our thoughts contribute towards accomplishing our goals. It also provides us with something to hold on to when things do not go our way.

In my video, “4 traits you need to succeed in business,” I explore why Purpose, one of these 4 traits, is essential for success. Another entrepreneur, Elon Musk, explains how purpose drives his decisions to succeed.

What I like about the advice from the female Sharks is that it gives counsel to business owners in different stages of their entrepreneurial journey, Greiner tells us what we should do before starting a business or before offering a new product or service—begin with the customers in mind by asking them what they need or want. Both Corcoran and Blakely advice on what we can do when things get stressful or difficult—take a breather and hold on to your purpose.  

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >