NAME: Jessica Thomas
COMPANY: Health Lab
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Passionate, determined, straight shooting, enterprising, loyal
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? I was busy, stressed and working extremely long hours in the corporate world as a Marketing Manager. It wasn’t too long until I was in a very committed relationship with the chocolate and cookie jars on our floor, especially around that 3pm mark! I soon started embarking on the search for actually healthy snacks for something that wasn’t boring (such as a bloody apple) that would leave me unsatisfied, and on the hunt again 15 minutes later. All I wanted was something healthy, but still delicious enough get me through my afternoon sugar cravings and keep me working productively into the evening. Health Lab was founded because I saw a gap for nourishing and healthy snacks that were conveniently delivered straight to busy women, like myself. Healthy snacks that helped women remain productive, energized and ready to tackle the world. The business literally started in a small commercial kitchen while I was still working full time, with all family and friends hands on deck rolling, rolling and rolling away. I would be in the kitchen before dawn and back after work to keep up with the orders we had been getting from local cafes and gyms. The word was spreading quickly and I was lucky to have a very supportive boyfriend (now husband) at the time that encouraged me to quit my corporate career and go into the business full time. In just over a year, we have full online store but are also stocking in almost 1850 doors across Australia which includes AFL, IGA’s, Lorna Jane Stores, About Life Stores, Food Works, Caltex, Ezy Mart, On the Run, Independent groceries, Hospitals, Health Food Stores and many boutique fitness studios and clubs. We have also worked with some awesome community partners including Nike, Stylerunner, Lorna Jane, Lulu Lemon and the AFL and built the largest social media following of any health food business in Australia.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do? We are an Australian brand that makes uncomplicated, natural and bloody delicious health snacks. We try and take the confusion out of healthy eating, and have no nasties or silly claims involved. We are a brand inspired by #BABESWITHBALLS, women that aren't afraid to challenge boundaries, dream big and aim high. We are all for women being on top and know they only have time for a quickie – so our products are designed to make their busy lives that bit easier. In other words, we are simply about giving women what they want.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) Definitely not. I think I thought I would be working my way up a business, not running my own company.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? I think I’ve learnt that success is really a continuous journey and your definition of success changes over the years. Now, how I define ‘success’ is being true to yourself, loving what you do and living life on your terms. I feel very lucky to be doing just that at this stage in my life.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally). Personally, I am about to have my first baby – so I guess the challenge of running a business with babies involved is a challenge I am hoping to enjoy and thrive with. Professionally, I have some very big goals in place. Ultimately, we are aiming to be the biggest health food business in Oz, so a bit of a journey ahead with lots of wins in between.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? Funnily enough I did study commerce (majoring in Marketing) and journalism, and really hated both degrees at the time. I’m a big believer that you really only learn by getting your hands dirty and making mistakes, and no degree (well at least not the ones I did) can prepare you for the realities of running a business and marketing a product.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? The most rewarding parts of my career have definitely been during running my own business. Although the lows can be very tough, the rewards and highs are really amazing. Thus far, the most rewarding parts have been firstly actually making the leap into Health Lab full time and leaving my ‘corporate’ career. Then landing some amazing partners and stockists who believe in the brand such as Nike, Stylerunner, Lorna Jane, AFL, Caltex, IGA’s, Food Works and some other big ones that are currently in the works!
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? Our office is in a co-working office space that has being designed to enhance creativity and productivity. The space even has trees inside, break out areas on grass and birds chirping as the background noise. Within our actual office we have our brand values and pillars on the walls, team goals written on the others and of course lots and lots of delicious snacks! It really is a great space to brainstorm, workshop and create some magic in!
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey? Oh God there have been so many! I think one of the biggest ones for me is learning that good things really do take time, and you need to have a lot of patience. I used to get very frustrated with how long it would take to land a key account or get a new product launched into the market. But I’ve now learnt the value now of slowing down and understand that success is a marathon, not a sprint!
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? I think the last time I was really overwhelmed and cried was earlier this year when we were having some serious product quality issues. I am extremely passionate about the natural ingredients, quality, taste and customer experience of our products and it was a pretty tough time knowing you didn’t have the best version of your product out in the market at such an important phase in the business. However, I really believe these moments are meant to happen and it’s these hurdles when you can be forced to make tough but essential decisions. So for us, this experience meant changing manufacturers and our recipe, so ultimately having an even better product out there!
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? Yes, I have really high expectations of myself and what I want to achieve I think that’s only increased as I’ve progressed in my career. I think as soon as you start believing that big things are possible, you set the bar higher and higher. So as soon as I achieve one of my goals, I’m setting the next one and making sure it’s even bigger and bolder.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? That can be really tough. You really can’t afford to step away and take your eye of the ball and you also have a team to keep in mind that needs your support, focus and positive energy. I think having a really clear and inspiring vision and goals (both personally and professionally) helps you move through these tough times and give you perspective.
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? Yes definitely. When starting and running a business, you really have to throw everything you have into it and a lot of people have trouble understanding that. I found my friendships changed when I started the business and really revealed to me who my true friends were. In regards to my personal relationship, it changed everything as my then boyfriend, now husband ended up selling his own business to help me run Health Lab. It means now there is much less separation between work and play! But I believe it’s actually affected our relationship for the better and taken the business to another level.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? There have definitely been times where I’ve felt my life is very different from my friends and family around me, however I am very lucky to have never truly felt lonely in this journey. My husband has been an incredible supporter and has always been there to ride the rollercoaster with me. Plus I was lucky enough to reach out and start friendships with other women in business at the very beginning of my Health lab journey. It really does help to have a network around you that understands the unique challenges of running your own business and who you can share your experiences with!
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? When we are having challenging times in the business, sleepless nights are a guarantee. I will wake up multiple times in the night sending myself reminder emails or I’ll just get up and work through solutions at some random time like 3am. All part of the fun!
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? Honestly no. I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason and to go back and do things differently could mean changing the outcome. When I look back now, I realize that parts of my career journey that didn’t seem to make sense at the time, definitely make sense now!
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Back yourself. Take Risks.
Who are some women in business you admire & why? I feel very lucky to be running a business in an era that have some incredible women that are achieving amazing things and showing the next generation that anything is possible. However, I really do admire the women out there who are thriving in their careers and still manage to support, build-up and inspire the other women under and around them. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it too many times where it’s the women (not men) that hold other women back and see other women’s success as the enemy. The women that can see the power of us uniting together are the real game changers.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? Passion, positivity, hunger, ambition, generosity, humbleness, spirited!
Work life balance… Does it exist and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? I think naively at the beginning, I thought starting my own business would allow me to have work/life balance. I was completely wrong and have never worked so hard in my life. However, it really doesn’t feel like work to me now because I am so passionate about it and really enjoy growing the business. With the added addition of my husband working in the business, plus new time zones as we export our products internationally, it isn’t uncommon for us to be talking about business over dinner, doing emails late at night, on the weekend and on holidays. So no, for me I don’t think the ‘traditional work/life balance’ concept is something I’ve achieved, but I think I actually thrive off the lifestyle and have learnt to let go of unrealistic expectations.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? There have been so many grueling and hard times in the business where it would have been really easy to walk away, but deep down I don’t think I’ve ever seriously considered it. I just really believe that this is something I’m meant to be doing and would always regret it if I quit. But I do think that anything worth having takes hard work and it wouldn’t be as satisfying if it came easy. Maybe I’m just an extremely stubborn Leo!
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? That often people still think we are hand rolling the balls! Although they are still as natural as the day we started, there is no way we could keep up (or keep sane) if we were still hand rolling!
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? Work on your mindset above anything else. The hardest part of starting up a business, in any industry, is to overcome doubt and fear. So working on your mindset daily to stay positive, focused and bring your best self to the table every single day.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? Although starting Health Lab has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, I wouldn’t swap it for a second. I’ve never learnt so much about myself or business, it really is worth every bit of the blood, sweat and tears!
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? I would love to leave a legacy of ‘babes with balls’ that support each other, aren’t inhibited by societal expectations and believe anything is possible! I guess my quote would be, “Worry less about fitting into glass slippers, and worry more about smashing glass ceilings!”
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? It’s been crucial in my own journey to have the support of other women in business to help mentor, navigate and inspire me. I am so passionate about women giving back, supporting, uplifting and helping women celebrate each other’s successes.
What are some of your favorite quotes?
“A woman who is hustling can never understand a woman that is hating”
“A man is not a financial plan”
“Go to bed with dreams, and wake up with purpose”
“Design a life you don’t need a vacation from”
“Don’t compare your chapter 1, to someone elses chapter 20”