The for-purpose business owner reveals why she never cashed the cheque from her first sale, and how substantial storm damage transformed her business for the better.
- Business name: Whole Kids
- Industry: Children’s snacks
- Number of employees: 12
- Operating since: 2005
- Location: Melbourne, Victoria
What was your first paid job?
I worked at my local bakery serving bread to customers.
What made you get into your current business?
In early 2000, I led a team of Australians to Indonesia to deliver an aid relief program to children. It really challenged my thinking and inspired me to do something to make a difference.
Around the same time, I found purchasing healthy snacks for my young nieces and nephews difficult, as the marketing by big food companies was very deceptive. I wanted to fill the gap in the market and saw the opportunity to create a truly healthy range of kids’ products that were created by a business that was purpose-driven and dedicated to supporting children’s health.
How did you get your very first customer?
I went door knocking! My first customer was Andy who owned South Melbourne Market Organics, who purchased an entire box of sultana snack packs. We never cashed his $73 cheque and still have it framed and hanging up as a reminder of how far we’ve come!
What has been your biggest triumph in business?
There have been a few: one was being the only female named among the Westpac Top 20 Businesses of Tomorrow and taken to the US on a global study tour.
The other, and maybe most meaningful to me, was seeing the outcomes of the work we do with Plan International and taking my daughter Chloe to Cambodia to witness the impact we had made first-hand.
As I stood at the school gate in Cambodia surrounded by hundreds of children and with my daughter Chloe by my side, I was taken back to my time in Indonesia and had an overwhelming sense that my life had come full circle, from vowing to make a difference to children’s health to seeing the impact my business was having.
Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
When we first started Whole Kids, we were growing so fast and this was putting enormous pressure on all aspects of the business, including our operational requirements. We had rented a warehouse in Richmond and during a terrible storm, the roof collapsed taking all our stock with it.
I realised in that moment that we needed to focus in on what we were good at, which was creating products, and to surround ourselves with specialists in warehousing and logistics who could manage our operational requirements better than we could.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is identifying your core level of expertise, really focusing in on that and then partnering with specialist organisations around you to support with other more peripheral skills.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s something my father has always said: “Persistence will get you everywhere.” While I was on the global study tour in the US, as the only woman, I came by the expression “Nevertheless she persisted”, which became a feminist catch cry in 2017 after Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced in the Senate. The expression went viral and was a timely reminder for me of the importance of having the tenacity and courage to stand up for what you believe in.
If you could change one thing to make life easier as a business owner, what would it be and why?
I found when starting out, finding a network of trusted advisers can be difficult. If there could be a magical way someone could let you know who to align with in the industry, that would be very helpful!
Who do you look up to in business and why?
Anita Roddick of The Body Shop. I read her books when I was first starting out. She was one of the pioneers of purpose-based business and doing things in a conscious way to make a difference. I really admire how she stood up for what she believed in and moved forward to show that there was a different way of doing business.
What do you do to get away from work?
I literally run away from work! I wake up at 5am on Saturdays and go running along the Yarra and different areas across Melbourne, and it’s a great way to get out of my head. Given Melbourne is so busy throughout the day, it’s calming to get out when it’s silent and a different way of viewing the city.
What is the best thing you have ever spent money on in your business?
My team! Whole Kids wouldn’t be where it is without them. You can never undervalue the importance of a great team, the culture they create and the attitude they bring to work. It’s especially rewarding for us to build this small business together and witness our immense growth and impact over the years.
Name a little-known fact about yourself.
I’m a fully accredited personal trainer/group fitness instructor! In some way, health has always been a big part of my life.
What is the funniest experience or encounter you have had in business?
I was upgraded on a flight from Los Angeles to Austin and sat next to well-known rapper Slim Jxmmi of the hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd. He called me Boss Lady and had Paris Hilton bumped for me so he could show me photos of his little boy Jedi and learn more about my business! After posting a photo of us on his page, I received over 2,000 messages of support from his fans. It was one of the most enjoyable flights I’ve had.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.
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