When Rhian Allen was six months pregnant with her first child, she sold her house and quit her job to create a weight-loss company for new mothers.
Seven years later that business, The Healthy Mummy, is on track to turnover $20 million this financial year – twice what it achieved in the previous period. The website attracts more than one million visits a month, while its 1.5 million plus social media community is highly engaged and active.
And after seven years of renting – after putting $300,000 from the sale of her house into a business that didn’t turn a profit for the first three years – Rhian also recently bought a new home.
If that’s not enough of a pretty mega-2017, add this: The Healthy Mummy recently secured the backing of private equity firm Whiteoak, which purchased a 50% stake in the business.
I spoke to Rhian this morning from her office in the Sydney beach suburb of Manly – a fitting location for someone who once gave up a corporate career in media and was determined to create an environment where people could work hard, but always enjoy and thrive at what they’re doing.
She told me there are 25 women working in the office and another 150 more across the country, mostly mothers. The place is buzzing, she says. With no single product driving the business’ growth – they offer everything from 28-day weight-loss apps, to meal replacements, recipes, fitness plans and now even activewear – they’re continuously tapping their customer base to innovate on new ideas.
And the staff are coming in and out – with a wide range of different flexible work options being used. That’s particularly handy at this time of year when many working parents have to get away for school concerts, assemblies and other end-of-year functions.
“I would hate to work somewhere where I’d feel guilty for needing and wanting to spend time with my kids, so I make sure we take away the guilt [for staff].”
“When I was setting this office up I wanted it to be an office that people enjoyed working in. That it wasn’t a typical corporate office. I feel passionate about people enjoying what they are doing, and working how they need to work. I treat everyone as an individual and make it work for them,” Rhian tells me.
“This is about women working with each other to empower mums. There is nothing competitive about it.”
Starting an empire
Rhian says her first pregnancy was a catalyst for making the shift from a senior corporate role to entrepreneur. But it was a risk she seemed only willing to take when the stakes became seriously high.
“I always felt like I was an entrepreneur but I was too scared. I had a high salaried, secure job and this fear of, what will I do? And what if it doesn’t work out?
“When I became pregnant, I thought ‘now is the time to overcome that fear and do something I’m passionate about’.
“I didn’t want to stay in a corporate environment. I knew I had to believe in myself and back myself and do something I’m passionate about, otherwise I’ll regret it.”
Rhian had studied health and fitness online before she left the corporate world, and had been researching how many women gain weight during pregnancy, then struggle to shift it later on. She also had the experience of gaining weight herself, and the frustration and psychological discomfort that comes with that. She saw an opportunity to help and support more mothers after having children, finding a gap in the market to create a special kind of community-first weight-loss program.
Rhian realised this would be her opportunity. One that could enable her to leave the corporate world, achieve more flexibility to be there for her kids, and create something new and game-changing for women.
She wrote a business plan, discussed it with her husband, and the pair agreed to sell their home to make it work. Two years after launching, Rhian’s husband also quit his job to join the business.
“We knew the worst thing that could happen is that it all fails and we lose the money, and then we’re renting with no money. That’s the worst thing. But I also knew I could always get another job.”
With $300,000 invested, Rhian got started by building the community, which she says has always underpinned the business. She built the website, social media presence and brought in experts in nutrition and fitness. They started creating content including eBooks, with the business later expanding into products and the 28 Day Weight-loss Challenge.
“Having invested the money from the beginning allowed me to be creative and focus on the customer,” Rhian says. “It allowed the financial freedom to pursue my dream and build that community. Once that community was built and people could quickly see it was genuine, it grew really fast. I would never have believed seven years ago it would be what it is today.”
Managing business, kids and health
Asked how she managed building a business with a newborn at home, Rhian says she simply worked around his schedule – fitting in as many phone calls as possible into his daytime naps, then working well into the night.
“I would work pretty much all day and all night, but fit that around my little one. When he was sleeping I would do work. I have an enormously strong work ethic, more insane than most people. I’ve always kept going. Even when I was tired. I would always make it happen. I’d sleep around 5 hours a night (she still does), and work fast.”
She concedes the workload may have actually been easier back when her kids were babies (they’re now six and four), given she was mainly managing freelancers as opposed to staff.
So given the continued workload now, I ask how Rhian finds time to retain her own health and wellness — especially given the products the business sells and the message it markets regarding health.
“I don’t see it as finding time,” she says. “You brush your teeth because you have to. I see health and wellness in a similar way. If you don’t eat well and you don’t move, you’re not going to be healthy and feel good. That’s essential for how you feel daily, but also your longevity. It’s part of who I am.”
She says that while she aims to set an example to her community and to her staff, she’s not extreme about her relationship to diet and exercise. “It’s all about balance, and shifting that mindset to being aware of the importance of health and wellbeing, including mental wellbeing.
“No one is perfect, but you want to try and live the healthiest life you can. It’s fine if you a have a blowout, it’s all about the balance.”
Next up, Rhian’s getting ready to launch the business in the UK. She’s hired an international director, and has already engaged 2500 mums to test the product and kickstart the community.