For those of you who aren’t familiar with our story, we appeared on Network Ten’s Shark Tank in August 2017 and received an amazing reaction from the sharks, with Janine Allis winning an impressive bidding war against Steve Baxter for a stake in Be Fit Food.
In the weeks that followed, we experienced the most phenomenal rapid growth. Overnight our small business grew by 1500% and we went from five employees to 63 one month later. We quickly learnt that we were nowhere near prepared to scale for this unprecedented demand.
While we service 70% of postcodes in Australia today, it’s been an incredible journey — filled with many highs, lows, and lots of bitter-sweet moments in between. And although I wouldn’t change a thing, there are some very important lessons I’ve learnt along the way that I wish I’d known before I started my business.
1. Your website matters
When Shark Tank aired, our website received 60,000 hits and crashed. It then continued to crash every hour after that for a few weeks after the show. You can only imagine how this affected our customer experience — not off to a great start!
Despite the unusual flow of traffic, our first website also wasn’t suitably designed for our type of businesses to operate with ease and success. It was custom built, which sounds good in theory, but in reality it was expensive to upkeep and therefore extremely inflexible.
But our website troubles didn’t stop there. Our second website never went to launch, and our third website didn’t quite serve our purposes either. We’ve now launched our fourth website, which appears to be the right fit (so far!) but like anything in business, there’s still ongoing development and improvement.
While there’s no such thing as the perfect platform, investing in a good website and technology from the get-go can save you a lot of headaches down the track. For a startup, a $100,000 tech investment seems like an absurd amount of money to splash out, but if we didn’t cut corners initially to save, we would have made this money back tenfold.
2. Always have your own back
Believe in yourself and always back yourself in — no matter how crazy your idea might seem. You will have plenty of doubters (or ‘realists’ as some would like to call themselves), but you need to be confident in your own abilities and stick to the vision.
When Shark Tank was set to air, I was extremely optimistic this would be a giant turning point for the business, but our production team were adamant we wouldn’t need more than 200 boxes worth of stock. I petitioned for 800, however we never got there in time. And what do you know? We sold out in the first night and spent the next few weeks trying our hardest to quickly fill back orders — it was one of the most challenging times in our business.
Trust your gut and back yourself.
3. Question everything
When you’re starting a new business, you have so much going on that often you blindly trust your suppliers, advisors and experts to give you advice/programs/plans they think will work best for your business. More than that, often you’re naïve and don’t know what you’re doing or where to start.
I am a strong believer in listening to advice, because it’s really important to learn from others. However, an important piece of advice for those starting out would be to question everything. Why should I go on that service plan? Why should I go with that product package? How much should I be spending a month on rent? What kind of people should I be hiring and why? Will this website work for us? Are there any hidden costs? Should that be in our employment contracts? And the list goes on.
Don’t let a small oversight cost you a big chunk of time, money and resources later down the track. Be clear on exactly what suppliers you’re using, what staff you’re hiring, and your expenses — why, how much it costs, and how it makes your business better. It can save you a lot of time, money and drama.
4. Set yourself up for ongoing success
It’s really important to set yourself up for success from the outset. Go into it with the mindset that you’re already a successful business and invest in the technology, processes, and people to match this mindset. While it may cost you more in the beginning, it can definitely be worth it in the end.
One example for us was that we tried to save money on packaging in the beginning — only to have it constantly break, which saw us fielding customer complaints every day. We have since upgraded to better packaging and have received much better feedback and greater customer retention. I could give so many examples of where we tried to cut costs in the beginning, only for it to turn around and bite us later.
Good systems and planning also allow you to know exactly what staffing you need, as you don’t have excess staff working to fill the gaps that you could have filled with automated systems, such as data collection. Having strong operating procedures helps your business flow efficiently and effectively and be positioned for growth.
5. Hire slow and fire fast
The saying is true that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. I’ve learnt to only hire people who align with the vision of the company, and who actually want to come on the journey. It sounds cliché but it’s important to hire nice people too.
You’ll quickly realise who fits and who doesn’t in your business by how the other staff interact with them. My advice would be not to let a negative employee take down the whole ship; listen to your gut instincts, pay attention to your employees and act accordingly.
Remember your people are an extension of your brand, and the gateway to unlocking your vision and growth, so make sure you take the time to hire the right ones!
6. Ask for help
Put your pride aside and always ask for help if you need it. When Shark Tank aired, many people in the Mornington community took leave from their own jobs to help our struggling business because they believed in us and our cause. Never underestimate the power of relationships, community and connection.
Another important reason to ask for help is to avoid burnout. Stress actually affects your body and mind and can paralyse you from achieving your goals. I personally have spent time in recovery from burnout after I tried to take on too much of a mental and physical load with my business and family responsibilities. Learn when your body needs to rest, and how you can make this happen.
I’d consider hiring a personal assistant sooner rather than later too. I used to think of this being a luxury rather than a necessity but having a PA has allowed me to delegate tasks that don’t need my attention and focus on achieving my full potential in my role as chief executive.
Lastly, the most important piece of advice is practice what you preach. As a healthy meal provider, for me that means eating nutritious food, including what we sell to our customers, having balance, and keeping my body moving to maintain optimum health.