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Episode 3 · 47 minutes
Kate Johansson (from Shark Tank)
Available in other formats

In today's episode, we sit down with Kate Johansson, the force behind Koja Health, for a candid chat about her entrepreneurial journey. Kate walks us through her early days, from dabbling in the supplement world to the pivotal moment that steered her towards the real food movement. With a mix of professional insight and personal anecdotes, she unpacks the hurdles of navigating a marketplace crowded with quick-fix solutions and shares her marketing strategy for carving out a niche with Koja's wholesome snacks. We also get a peek behind the curtain of her Shark Tank experience, learning why she chose to walk away from a tempting investment, underscoring the significance of aligning with partners who truly get your vision. 

Key Takeaways

  • Find Your Niche: Identify a gap in the market that aligns with your passions and values. Kate's journey started from her dissatisfaction with the supplement industry and her passion for real food, leading her to create Koja Health. If you're starting a business, focus on what makes you different and fill a gap that exists.

  • Educate Your Audience: Share knowledge and educate your customers about the benefits of your product or service. For Koja, it was about providing nutrition education and showing how real food can positively impact health. For your business, think about the 'why' behind what you're doing and use it to engage and inform your audience.

  • Product Development Is a Process: It can take time to develop a successful product. Kate's experience shows that listening to customer feedback, being willing to evolve, and addressing failures as learning opportunities are crucial steps. Consider customer feedback seriously and be prepared to iterate your product based on this feedback.

  • Market Strategically: Clear and effective communication of your product's unique selling points is essential. Koja's focus on having 75% less sugar than other natural snack bars is a significant differentiator. Identify your product's key features and ensure they are communicated effectively to your target audience.

  • Self-Reflection and Adaptation: Kate's journey underscores the importance of self-awareness, continuous learning, and adaptation in business. Regularly evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, and business strategies to ensure you're moving in the right direction.

  • Understand Your Financials: A solid grasp of your business's financial health is vital for making informed decisions. You don't need to be a finance expert but understanding the basics of your cash flow, sales, and expenses will help you manage your business more effectively.

  • Always Product Integrity at the Forefront: Stay true to your values and the quality of your product. Koja prioritises natural ingredients and health benefits over extending shelf life for profit. Consider how your business practices and product development align with your core values and how they serve your customers' best interests.

  • Trust Your Intuition: When evaluating investment opportunities, prioritise not only financial gains but also value alignment, vision, and genuine support from investors. Seek partners who share your mission and can provide capital, mentorship, and strategic guidance. If a deal compromises your business integrity or doesn't align with your goals, be ready to say no. Trusting your intuition and focusing on long-term alignment over short-term benefits is key to long-term success. 

  • Embrace the JourneyEntrepreneurship is a journey with highs and lows. Being open about challenges and learning from failures can lead to growth and success. Embrace the entrepreneurial journey with resilience, staying open to learning and adapting as you go.

Who is Kate Johansson?

Kate Johansson is a dynamic entrepreneur and the visionary founder of Koja Health, a company dedicated to simplifying healthy eating with real food snack options. With a rich background spanning finance, marketing, and business consultancy, including a pivotal role at Carlton Football Club developing sports nutrition products, Kate's career evolved from her disillusionment with the supplement industry's artificial approach to a passionate commitment to nutrition and wellness. 

Launching Koja Health in 2014, she has since been at the forefront of advocating for whole foods over diet culture, aiming to educate and inspire healthier lifestyles. Beyond running her business, Kate is a business and entrepreneur mentor at Online Courses Australia, sharing her journey and offering expert, hands-on insights to empower future entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Links & Social Media

Tap Into Your Entrepreneurial Potential with Online Courses Australia

Want to start your own business venture but not sure how? Our online business and entrepreneurship courses have everything you need to kick-start your journey. Learn from mentors like Kate Johansson and other leading industry experts who will guide you every step of the way.

Our courses offer real-life tips, expert advice, and support, ensuring you have the knowledge and confidence to thrive in your entrepreneurial pursuits. No matter where you are in your journey, we're here to help you build a successful business.

Listen on:

[00:00:00.790] - Speaker 2

Welcome to this episode of Brilliant Brains and Beautiful Minds. I'm your host, Melanie Burnicle. Today, we're talking Pancakes, Peanut, Butter, Real Food, and feeling better. Please welcome my guest for today, Kate Johansson from Koja. Now, I wanted to start off with going back to when you were younger and thinking about what was it that you saw yourself doing as a career as a youngster?

[00:00:31.080] - Speaker 1

I think probably most young kids, I wanted to be a vet. I loved animals. I loved my pet dog. That was always the dream. Diverged away from that pretty quickly.

[00:00:43.010] - Speaker 2

Yeah, many So many years of study. So when you first started off doing your amazing breakfast toppers and things, what were you doing? Obviously, because you were doing that on the side. And then so what were you doing in as a role for a job prior to that?

[00:01:03.040] - Speaker 1

I was working with a startup, so I didn't have any equity. I didn't own the startup, but I was engaged to start the business from scratch, and it was a pretty exciting opportunity. It was through the Carlson Football Club. They wanted to create their own range of nutrition supplements for their players and for other elite athletes.

[00:01:23.850] - Speaker 2


[00:01:25.070] - Speaker 1

Yeah. So I had a great opportunity there to learn how to launch a brand, find manufacturers, source ingredients, work with the TGA and the Food Standards Australia, the regulatory bodies for supplements and for the food industry. And And also everything else that's involved with a startup, budgeting and marketing, financials, margins, everything. So fantastic experience. But I quickly realised that my heart wasn't in supplements. I'm very much a real And I'm a food advocate. And I couldn't continue to promote products that I didn't believe in with all the synthetic and artificial and just strange, awful additives and preservatives that were in supplements.

[00:02:13.850] - Speaker 2

Through that process, Is that where you looked at, well, hang on a second, what can I do differently that I believe in? Is that how your code, your brand started?

[00:02:25.120] - Speaker 1

Yeah, definitely. I think, and this would be my advice for anyone wanting to start a business, you have to I know why you're different, and there has to be a gap. If you're just doing what somebody else is already doing, and maybe you're doing it a little bit better or slightly different, I don't think... I mean, business is hard enough without having your own point of difference. So it's something that I've really always focused on, is being different. And so from day one, I always tried to create products that didn't already exist, and I think we've definitely delivered on that.

[00:02:59.900] - Speaker 2

Amazing. Now, going back just a quick little thing, you said understanding why you're doing it as well. So what's your, and this is one thing I do people talk to me a lot about, and it's purpose. So what's your why to why Koja? What's in there for you?

[00:03:19.010] - Speaker 1

I mean, there's so much. I think I'm so passionate about this business. I think essentially it comes down to nutrition education. I think that all of us should know more about what we're eating and what our bodies need and what certain foods do, and how they're digested, and what nutrients, and vitamins, and minerals are associated with what function in the body. And without encouraging everyone to go off and study nutrition for years or months or anything like that, I'm very much about keeping it real. But I do think that my why is that we should understand those basics, so that when we wake up feeling slightly slightly tired, or at the end of the day, we might feel bloated or the myriad of conditions that we might have with our health, there is some basic understanding as to why that might be happening and how we can change the way we eat in order to alleviate perhaps the bloating as one example or fatigue and things like that.

[00:04:23.510] - Speaker 2

Do you find it strange that we eat probably at least three times a day? And most people, including myself up until however many years ago, you don't actually really consider everything that's in the product. You don't actually consider what you're putting into your body, that has to have so many different reactions within your body to actually give you the right feel and to make you feel good and to make your body function? Does that just blow your mind that most people don't know what's in their food?

[00:04:55.090] - Speaker 1

It doesn't really blow my mind because I think I understand. A lot of us eat for pleasure and for hunger. And so sometimes you just don't have time to sit down and really think about what nutrients you might need in that moment. There are so many other things in life to think about and to worry about without needing to add additional stress. But I think it becomes relevant when we have a problem with our health. And that's where I started to learn more about nutrition. And my problem was that I moved to London when I was 18 and worked in a pub and pretty quickly put on about 15 kilos in a year.

[00:05:32.550] - Speaker 2

I think everyone goes through one of those moments. You're like, where'd you go?

[00:05:38.200] - Speaker 1

I've put my jeans on one day and bent over and I can't actually believe I'm telling you this, but it happened. Thank God, it was before Facebook days and there are no photos online, so you can't find them. But I moved back to Australia after living overseas for 18 months and had all this excess weight, which was never something that I had throughout my teenage years. I was always very fit and healthy, and then thought to myself, okay, I'm back in Australia. I definitely want to get back to a normal weight. And that was when I went, okay, so what is Basically, what is food and what is it doing? And why do I feel rubbish when I'm eating all of these diet foods and meal replacement shakes and all the stuff that the advertising tells you to be eating? If you're overweight And you listen to advertising, we should be having meal replacement shakes. We should be having chocolate flavour bars with only two points. And we should be having diet, artificially sweetened products instead of real food. And I just felt like rubbish. I had no energy all the time. I wasn't losing weight.

[00:06:49.800] - Speaker 1

And that, for me, was just an awful year or two trying to get back to a healthy weight. And what finally worked for me was cutting out all the processed rubbish and just eating wholefoods, real food and vegetables.

[00:07:05.440] - Speaker 2

Because I have a few food intolerances and a fair few allergies, and I put myself in the special needs bracket. And what I noticed years ago when I went, right, I'm going to really help my gut and go completely gluten free. What I didn't know, I blew out like a balloon. And I was like, what happened? I'm doing everything I should be getting better. But all of these processed gluten And the gluten free products that were meant to be helping me were all high GI and full of sugar. And I've never been friends. And then you're thinking you're doing the right thing. And I really thought, okay, I'm buying all these gluten free foods. My life should be better. I'm paying a fortune for them. And I felt worse. Yeah. And then that's when I started learning and researching. And then, like what you said, the amount of sugar in the products that you're just not aware of. It blew my mind.

[00:08:00.040] - Speaker 1

Yeah, I think processed foods is the real trap there. And I think a lot of people think, okay, I'm going to make a good move for my health and cut out gluten. But then you end up consuming more processed food. And like you said, processed foods have got a lot of sugar, as well as a lot of other additives and hidden ingredients and salt and sugar and artificial stuff. And that, in a nutshell, is processed food that I think doesn't agree with most of it, and then causes more issues It's like floating, and it's not digested properly, so you can have all sorts of digestive issues. And we think that's coming from gluten. But I don't... I mean, obviously, for some people, they are buliac. But for a lot of us, when we cut out processed foods, we feel better.

[00:08:48.550] - Speaker 2

Oh, I 100 % agree.

[00:08:50.330] - Speaker 1

I think health is different for everybody. But I think one thing that does agree with most people is real food. And that's our essence at Koja. We're all about... I mean, our tagline is, Real food, feel better. And that's exactly what we've started talking about, which is that when you eat real food, you feel better.

[00:09:08.840] - Speaker 2

And it's so true. It takes a while. I noticed when I did have the sugar in my system for me to get that out, I was a bit of a nerve nut, but I always felt hungry when I was eating all the sugar. I never felt satisfied. Is that something that you find that sugar does to people as well?

[00:09:23.140] - Speaker 1

Well, yeah, I think this comes back to the basic nutrition education, which is my why. I mean, I wish that everybody understood the difference between carbohydrates, proteins, and fat as basic nutrition education. And fat and protein keep us full, and carbohydrates don't. Not for as long. Healthy fats from nuts and seeds and proteins will keep us digested slowly, so they keep us satisfied for longer. Whereas carbohydrates and sugar, like you mentioned, are digested much, much quicker. And so then you And then be an hour later going, actually, sure, I just had a big bowl of whatever I ate that was high in carbohydrates. But it's gone through your stomach really quickly and you're ready to eat again, which can often lead to overconsumption And gaining 15 kilos. Speaking from experience.

[00:10:19.440] - Speaker 2

Can I ask you, so with your products, the things that I've noted that you look to do, A, you've got Whole Foods in there, B, they actually have a great function for the actual body. And there's actually thought gone into, okay, how can this help with your body? So for me, like reading something on yours and it was like reducing inflammation. And that's huge for me. That just is enough to say, yes, great. And then the low sugar. And then, yeah, I just find it's such a great thing. And what you're doing is just really honest. But how would someone know if they're walking down the supermarket aisle to look at your product and know it's honest, and then look at the ones who are being a little bit dishonest?

[00:11:03.390] - Speaker 1

Yeah, and you've absolutely nailed our marketing challenge. I need to keep educating people around why our product is so different. I think we We've just launched into cold supermarket nationally across Australia. Congratulations. Thanks. But it is one of the challenges. We've previously been stopped in independent health food stores and online, where we do have an opportunity to educate people. And people are much more willing to pick up a bar and have a look at the ingredients. And they can see for themselves that there's hardly any sugar, and that there's no processed ingredients, and no additives, and all of the good stuff. But I think now that we're in Coles, we have that challenge of people spending less time in the supermarket. It's a very busy category. There's so many options. I mean, I've got, you can see in my I've got a show behind me. But it is just about continuing to educate people about why ours are different. And I think if I can say it really quickly, what I did when I created Our Bars was try to solve the problem that I had personally, which was when I was trying to choose a snack bar, everything in the natural whole food space, vegan claims like that that you associate with health food, it was all date-based.

[00:12:31.540] - Speaker 1

So it meant that they tasted very sweet. And there's a lot of delicious products in that date-based section and natural health section. But everything was so full of sugar. But then you look at the other side of the category and it's all the high protein, low sugar. But it's all full of really awful ingredients and ingredient lists as long as taking up half the packet or more. Whey protein and soy protein, isolated really highly refined sources of protein, full of artificial sweeteners and emulsifies and additives and preservatives and just everything. And that doesn't agree with me at all. Physically, that stuff goes straight through me. So there was no healthy snack. I was like, okay, I'm sick of eating a banana and a handful of almond for a snack. There must be something that are out there. And there really wasn't. So we created a low sugar, high protein, high and healthy fat, satiating healthy wholefood bar. I love it. That is damn delicious, too.

[00:13:32.770] - Speaker 2

Yeah. And then I love, so you've got three within your bar range now as well, three different flavours. Now, I like that as well, because I got told a couple of years ago, I can't eat peanut butter. I'm allergic to some nuts, but I'm not allergic to those. But my stomach doesn't agree with peanuts. What? I can eat peanut butter, but not crunchy peanut butter. Figure that out.

[00:13:56.350] - Speaker 1

You're a special case. Oh, yeah.

[00:13:58.980] - Speaker 2

Yeah. But I love that you've got a chop chip crunch in there as well, because, again, I think it's that mental thing when you think you're eating a little bit of chocolate.

[00:14:08.250] - Speaker 1

Yeah, definitely.

[00:14:09.480] - Speaker 2

And you feel like you're doing that.

[00:14:10.540] - Speaker 1

Our latest flavour is a dark chocolate peanut butter bar. And And it does still have peanuts in it. I apologise. But it is the perfect sweet treat with that. It's got less than a teaspoon of sugar in it. It's coming from a hint of coconut sugar. There's no it's really fructose friendly for people that have intolerances with fructose. It's vegan. It's gluten free. All these delicious things. And it's only 150 calories, but it does still have peanuts. What I can promise you is that you're not the only one that... So we have a lot of customers that have got specific dietary requirements, and we meet a lot of them being no vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, none of the process stuff, and fructose friendly as well. So we do We have a lot of customers with special dietary needs. And one of the new products that we're working on at the moment is a peanut-free snack.

[00:15:09.230] - Speaker 2

Even more exciting for me.

[00:15:11.950] - Speaker 1

Yeah, it's up to this space.

[00:15:13.780] - Speaker 2

Yeah, exactly. And then you also do one thing that I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday about who I was interviewing today. And then they were on your website like, oh, my God, they do healthy pancakes. And I'm like, aha. I'm like, when this is all over, you're coming around for breakfast.

[00:15:29.780] - Speaker 1

Yes. Perfect. Yeah, the pancakes, I think, I mean, I'm not gluten-intolerant, but our pancakes are gluten-free. And I think they're really the... I was trying protein pancakes. I'm quite into fitness. And even a couple of years ago when we were developing the protein pancakes, I was big into F45 and tried a few different protein pancake recipes online and various other pre-made mixes. And I found them just very eggy and flat and really not satisfying. And I was like, why is no one making a real fluffy pancake? For me, like I said, I'm not gluten-intolerant, but these pancakes are gluten free, and they're just so delicious and fluffy and satiating. They really keep you full for hours.

[00:16:20.700] - Speaker 2

Yeah, and they hit the spot, too. It's nice. It feels like you've got a treat, but I've had so many gluten free products over the years because I have tried to keep to... I'm not perfect all the time, every now and then. I think I'm superwoman, and I'll eat a few things, and then three days later, you're still going, why? Why? But to find great gluten free products that are exciting and taste good, and that still have a nice texture to them. That's a huge accomplishment within itself, because that's not necessarily the easiest thing to do.

[00:16:52.250] - Speaker 1

I think I sometimes hesitate to claim that our products are vegan because most of our customers aren't vegan. And I think, and I'm I'm not vegan, but I think there is an association with sometimes vegan products can taste, like processed vegan products can taste a little bit like cardboard. But our products are vegan, but absolutely don't taste like cardboard. They're still that real rich creamy texture. They've got a base of peanut butter, so they're often linked with the texture of cookie dough, which is the absolute opposite of cardboard.

[00:17:29.730] - Speaker 2

And you know what? I think when you're talking about education behind everything as well, I love that on your website, you do that as well. You're offering recipes, you're offering different ways to use your products and things. And I think we'll have all the links on our site ready to go as well. But I really like that you're not just throwing the product out there. You're also giving great ideas on how to live healthier. And for anyone who doesn't know how to read a label, jump on the website because I did go through and I was like, And as much as I read labels, I still learnt a lot. If you were to tell people there was one thing that they should really look for on a label, I know we've discussed sugar. But if there was something that they would look for on a label to ensure that they were getting the goodness in a product, what would you encourage them to look for?

[00:18:19.120] - Speaker 1

So I always look at ingredients, and the less, the better. I think even before you look at a label, the most important thing, I think, is to make sure that the So the majority of your food on a daily or a weekly basis is from foods that don't have a label. So wholefoods, which is what we've been talking about. Lots of fruit and veg, I think, is really the key to good health. And then when you are looking at labels, less ingredients, the better. We have 10 ingredients in our bars, and even that, I'd say, is a lot. But if you're looking at the average product in the supermarket, There can be, especially in the bar category, there can be upwards of 30 ingredients. And it's just scary how small the text gets and how you think about each one of those ingredients in your body. A little bit terrifying. But just with the ingredient, even before you look at the nutritional analysis, just knowing what the ingredients are. So for our bar, there's peanut butter and organic cacao butter. We know what those things are. But if it's hydrolized, soy, isolate, stabiliser, 101, whatever.

[00:19:33.320] - Speaker 1

And you just think, okay, well, I don't have that product in my pantry at home. Is it probably highly processed and made in a lab and going to cause digestive issues and inflammation and all the rest of it? Do you clear? Yeah, it just means it's processed. It's probably made in a lab and our bodies don't know what to do with it when it's digested.

[00:19:54.180] - Speaker 2

Yeah. So is that what causes inflammation? So when your body doesn't know what to do with something that's really foreign, that is a chemical-based, then our body just go, oh, I don't know what to do. And is that part of what causes inflammation?

[00:20:07.920] - Speaker 1

Yeah, part of it. And there's lots of things that cause inflammation. The main culprit is excess sugar. But also stress. So stress can come from your lifestyle and the way that you think about things, but it can also come from toxins in the body. And the toxin can be things like alcohol, but it can also be things like all the additives and preservatives and strange ingredients that we eat in processed food.

[00:20:33.980] - Speaker 2

Your products are going to be... So they're available in colds nationwide. And I think this is really exciting that we are getting foods that were sold only in health food stores. And that was how people found out about them. And so I think now that they're going to be more accessible being in such a big supermarket, that I think it's great that people will have the opportunity to go and purchase the products there as well.

[00:21:00.300] - Speaker 1

That's the really exciting thing that supermarket buyers don't usually make the first move. It is customers and consumers that make the first move. And small brands like us that are making a move in in this space. And so I think the supermarket has definitely followed what consumers want, which is, at least they're not ignoring it, which is fantastic. But I think the most exciting thing is that consumers really do have that power to support brands that are doing what you want to see more of. And if it is real food on the shelves, we're definitely there with you. And if consumers can support us with buying more of the products so that we can make more products that don't have all that process, rubbish in it, and are available in mainstream supermarkets. I think we will see a shift over the years. I think it's already happening.

[00:21:58.490] - Speaker 2

Can I ask you, Kate, and you've So you started off selling your breakfast stoppers at the market, and then you've moved into your health food stores and then your online. And now you're moving into cold. Is there a strategy that you put into place? Are there sales strategy or marketing strategy that you could talk us through? Just be nice to get inside your head and see how you got from A to B, within a strategy.

[00:22:25.840] - Speaker 1

Yeah, I mean, it's hard to put one strategy in two words. I think there's been many over the years and plenty that haven't gone according to plan. But I think last year was a real turning point for us. We launched our bars two years ago, and for the first year, I really didn't know how to talk about them, how to market them. I was, I think, so close to the brand, and I knew what was so good about the bars, and I knew how great they tasted. But I also knew that they were all good, wholefoods, and they were satiating, and you have one and you're so full for hours. And I knew all of this, but what I forgot was that people that are new to our brand have no idea what I'm on about. And so what I did last year is, and there were a few really significant people that were able to help me through this journey. But I got back to basics in terms of, okay, well, what is our brand? What are these products? What are the one or two things that people need to know? And that we came up with this claim 75 % less sugar.

[00:23:36.520] - Speaker 1

I think that's a really powerful statement. And that's on the... So 75 % less sugar than your average natural snack bar. And that's because we sit in a category where all of the natural snack bars are sweetened with dried fruit, which is usually dense. And so most of them are sometimes 20 grammes of sugar in small snack size. And you're like, I don't know, people, some people say they eat half of a snack bar. I'm like, who are you? You put half back in the packet. No way. If I buy a snack bar, I'm eating that whole thing. And like I said, you get that buzz. So for us, getting that really clear and just coming back to basics of, okay, so what is the one main thing that people need to know about our bars? It's 75 % less sugar. And then how do we implement that across almost everything that we do? So that involved... We had to rework our strategy across communications, socials, marketing, all of our presentations, how we talk to buyers, what the packaging looks like, the website, everything. We had So just go back to basics and review everything and go, okay, with this new strategy of 75 % less sugar being the main claim, how do we communicate that?

[00:24:53.230] - Speaker 1

Because everyone is so busy and we need to be able to respect people's time. As a consumer myself, I on our website. And if you can't give me the information that I need in two or three clips, I'm out of there. So we just wanted to catch people's attention and make it really easy for them to understand. If you're wanting to follow a low sugar diet, here we are Was it daunting going into a big supermarket like Coles to pitch? By the time I was presenting to the supermarket for national ranging, we'd already been in a handful of stores on a trial, and we were out selling our numbers three or four fold on a on a weekly basis. So I think I was going in pretty confident knowing that there really was a gap and that there were customers wanting a natural low sugar bar, and there were no natural low sugar bars. So I think it's a good place to be for our products.

[00:25:45.690] - Speaker 2

You've got this great energy when you're talking about your product. I don't know. You can see it in you. It's like you get this smile. And I think that story in the journey of what you've been on, that's part of your product. And I think it's beautiful.

[00:26:00.280] - Speaker 1

I mentor a few other women in business, and I think that USP, your unique selling proposition, or whatever it is that makes you different, that is something I go on and on and on about, because when you It's not that you find a new customer, it's what they'll want to know about you. But then it's also what keeps a customer. And I think, especially in SMCJ, keeping customers is almost more important than getting new ones, because if you can get new customers all the time, but they only buy your product once, you're going to have a pretty expensive marketing bill. But for us, I think what's being successful is that I've got customers that discovered our brand five years ago and still buy from our website every month. And they feel like family, even though I've never met them. But the notification pops up on my phone. I'm like, oh, it feels ordered again. Fantastic.

[00:26:55.920] - Speaker 2

I love that. I love that. And I love that you're still really so hands on, and you see all of this, because I think then you really are aware of what's going on in your business and who your consumer is.

[00:27:07.640] - Speaker 1

Yeah. And I mean, there's good and bad parts to that. I think, Mondays are a really busy day for us where we process most of our orders. So we get most of our independent wholesale orders. We get our big supermarkets orders on Mondays, and we've always got the Friday night, Saturday and Sunday online orders to process. And one thing, I mean, I'm not perfect. One thing I'm trying to work on is getting away from that processing part of the business. People always say, you shouldn't work in your business, you should work on your business. And Mondays are the one day of the week where I tend to get no work done. And I'm here, we do have a team. I'm not doing it all on my own, but I'm still here checking orders, making sure paperwork's done right, making sure labels are straight and things like that. I probably shouldn't be that hands on sometimes.

[00:28:03.640] - Speaker 2

Yeah, it is true. Working on the business and working in the business are two totally different things. And to be able to move forward, you have to take a step back and work on the business. But then I think if it's one day a week where you're in the business, I think it does keep you that hands on as well.

[00:28:20.130] - Speaker 1

Yeah, I think. And it's just reality. For a small business, we're not where I'd say we're a big small business. We're getting there. But we haven't had investment. We're not rolling in millions of dollars to hire staff and managers. Reality is that it's still a small business, and I need to be working And I butt off to make sure everything happens.

[00:28:47.860] - Speaker 2

Yeah. Talking about investment, you were on Shark Tank. It was 2015?

[00:28:54.320] - Speaker 1

Yeah. Yeah.

[00:28:55.450] - Speaker 2

So can you talk me through that process and what it was like for you to have people offering to invest in your business then? And then also that's happened afterwards as well with angel investors. And then your decision, because I find this very exciting.

[00:29:11.780] - Speaker 1

Yeah. I think for a lot of people that have their own business or have an idea, investment is something that we'll consider. And for me, Shark Tank was interesting. I ended up turning down the offer. And I think in And in hindsight, I realised no one's going to work and care about this business as much as I do. On Shark Tank, the sharks all promise to, I can do this, and I'm going to help you this, and I can mentor you, and things like that. The reality is, at the end of the day, if they've done a season of Shark Tank, they've probably picked up 20 businesses. They just don't have time to invest. Shark Tank is a great platform to speak to your consumers and get that baby need to say promotion. But it's reality is it's a reality TV show. It's not an angel investor programme or an accelerator programme. Once my episode, I realised that there wasn't the right synergy between the investor. And it was season one, it was John McGrath. It just there wasn't the right synergy between what his expectations of his business were and what mine were. And so I didn't go ahead with it.

[00:30:27.210] - Speaker 1

But I think what's really important and what I'd really like to share about investment with your listeners is just that I always thought that I needed an investor to be successful. And I think maybe this is a female thing, I'm not sure, but I didn't have the confidence in my own ability. I thought, I have never done this before. How on earth do I take a little idea from my kitchen bench in a farmer's market to now be stocking in supermarket shelves? So I always thought that I needed an investor, and also most investors are males. But over the years, I realised that I'm a quick learner. I'm very motivated, and it doesn't matter that I don't know everything. There are people that you can ask on how to do things, and you can learn and you can back yourself and fake it. And I think it's really exciting to be here now where I haven't taken investment and I still own 100 % of the business. And I'm pretty confident that we can continue to You seem to really understand your own character strengths.

[00:31:34.640] - Speaker 2

And you've just gone, actually, you know what? When you've taken a step back and looked at you, you've got this. You're a fast learner. You can do this. But acknowledging all those things that you are doing and that you can do. And then you were able to say, oh, okay, hang on a second. You know what? I'm going to be okay on my own. I think it's brave and it's exciting.

[00:31:54.230] - Speaker 1

Yeah. And it's taken five years. I think me, when I started this business, it was a I'm a completely different person to who I am now. But I think that's the one thing that I'd really like people to, if they are at the beginning of their business journey and they're doubting themselves, especially women, because I think we do it more. I think men just don't think about it and go and do it anyway. But I think as women, and I'm speaking to myself, I overthink everything. Not everything. I don't want to completely throw myself under the bus here, but it's something that I can do and have done in the past is you think too much about what might go wrong, and instead, focusing on what is going right is what's worked for me, and just trying to just keep pushing forward.

[00:32:44.100] - Speaker 2

Can I ask, now that you know that you sometimes will really think about too much and maybe everything and more, how do you now, knowing that on this five year journey, that that's been something that may have slowed the process down for you or held you back in one So you had to wait one way until you figured it out. How do you catch yourself now? And what's that little bit of self-conversation like with yourself to go, right here, come on, off we go.

[00:33:10.230] - Speaker 1

Yeah, I think there's two things that I do, and I probably make this mistake on a weekly or a monthly basis. So it's something I'm always practising. But having a big picture goal is always really important. So instead of getting bogged down in the little day to day things, because some days everything can go wrong, and it's just like, blow after blow. You get a shitty email and annoying phone call and a delivery doesn't turn up. And it's just like, things go wrong. But if you always have that big picture plan, which is like, okay, in the next three months, this is what we're trying to achieve. If we're always moving towards that, even if you get a day or a week of hiccups, if you can come back to that bigger plan, you know that you're moving ahead. And that, for me, is something that eases the anxiety around all the little things that go wrong. If I can still go, no, look at where we were three months ago. This is where we're trying to get to now. And look at where we're going to get to in three months. So having that big picture.

[00:34:09.060] - Speaker 1

But also the other thing that I do regularly, which I catch myself on, is thinking that things are personal when business is personal. It's all about building relationships and finding people that you can work with and trust and are on the same page as you. But also understanding that everyone is coming to life from their own point of view, and it's not always about me. I think sometimes I'll be like, oh, why didn't that person stop my brain, just something, oh, maybe he doesn't like me, or maybe she doesn't like me. It's like, actually, Kate, get over you. So I I've got nothing to do with you. And if I spent too much time thinking about all of the... I work predominantly in sales. Any business owner probably does. But especially in FMCJ, you're selling your product all the time to different people and different buyers.

[00:35:03.890] - Speaker 2

I think when it's your brand and your product and it's your baby, so to speak, you know what I mean? You've developed, you've created, it's yours. It's hard to release that personal It's a weird aspect to it. It really is. But when you do, you see the magic. You have to, yeah. You move forward quicker.

[00:35:21.040] - Speaker 1

I know. And I am very close to the brand and the product. And when people don't love it as much as I do, sometimes I'm like, you're a fool. Obviously, like I said, I'm just trying not to think about it too much and just move on.

[00:35:36.450] - Speaker 2

I think it's great how self-aware you are. And I think because so many people get to a point and they don't realise what they're doing or what's hindering themselves. And I think when you take a step back and you look at what you're doing and how you're processing, then you can go, oh, okay, that's just how I naturally work. All right. Well, that slows me down a bit. But you actually take the time to do that for yourself.

[00:36:01.060] - Speaker 1

Yeah, definitely. I mean, it's something that I'm continually working on, and I think we all have to. But I think for me, a lot of my career has been working predominantly on my own. So I haven't had a manager or anyone, really, to say, Kate, this is what you need to be working on. So it is about being your own manager and doing performance assessments on myself in some way. I've been doing Codra now for five and a half years. And before that, I worked on another business where, I mean, there were directors, but I was the only full-time employee, and it was a startup. So I was, again, working on my own for two years before that. So most of my career has been me with a laptop trying to make shit happen. So if I wasn't aware of my weaknesses, I probably wouldn't have grown much. You don't You have to be great at everything, but you do have to have someone in your team or your network that can do it. And if that means employing them.

[00:37:07.280] - Speaker 2

I think that's really important, just knowing that we're not meant to be heroes. And I've tried it in the past. I throw the cape on, I can do it, I can do it. I can do it. And then I end up, oh, I have it twice. I've almost just burnt out. You can work 20 hour days trying to do everything for months on end. You can't live like that. And then, again, knowing what strengths are, knowing what you're good at, focusing on that, because that's going to be where you create magic. And like we said, get someone, get a bookkeeper and whoever it is. And a lot of people I think that I have spoken to, especially in the last few months, the numbers for them are scary, not just because I don't understand them, but potentially it's like, oh, how do I make this better? But people tend to bury their heads with numbers a little bit. And I know I've been guilty of it in the past. I just didn't want to know. But It doesn't help you understand your business if you ignore the numbers.

[00:38:04.260] - Speaker 1

It scares me when people say, I don't look at my sales. I think if you're going to run a business, you have to have some appreciation of numbers and where your business is at. How do you make decisions around spending and stock levels and ordering if you don't have any idea of your cash flow?

[00:38:28.470] - Speaker 2

Kay, can I ask you as Well, things that you might have set out or you've created something and that hasn't actually gone anywhere the way that you wanted it. Can you talk us? Because a lot of people don't even get started on things because of fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of, am I good enough? Is it going to be good enough? And have you ever put a product out there that you've just gone, actually, and then because you've invested so much time, what do you do once it's there? And can you talk me through a scenario that might have been from you, from bringing it to life, pulling it, doing whatever that might have been for you, that journey, and what success have you found in the failures?

[00:39:10.200] - Speaker 1

Yeah, definitely. And I think in some ways Because my failures are still up there on the website. I launched this business with breakfast toppers, and they are essentially a failure, because I launched them into hundreds of retail outlets across the country, and they were so slow to move and to sell that they got pulled off the shelves really, really quickly. Now, our breakfast toppers are sold in, I would say, 10 stores across Australia. And so they are our failure. The interesting thing about why I keep selling them is, well, one, I love them and I eat them every day, so it's a selfish thing. But also we do over $10,000 a month on our website in breakfast topper sales. So they're successful in that sense of people that love and understand our brand and are literally addicted to the breakfast toppers that I would never stop making them. We'll never say never, but I really don't want to have to stop making them because even though they failed in that retail space, I think the main thing there that I learnt was that they're 1595 or $16. And for an FMCG product, that's a really high price point.

[00:40:30.160] - Speaker 1

For most people, when you're browsing the shelves, you're not going to spend $16 on one product. And the way the Brexit toppers worked was when I was at a farmer's market, and I could really explain to people that they're like a multivitamin. They're a natural multivitamin. They're a mix of nuts and seeds. Two tablespoons a day provides 25 vitamins and minerals, really nice hit of fibre. So they balanced out any digestive issues. And so then there's nothing else like them. So people keep buying them. But So in terms of failure, for years, I pushed those products. And through Shark Tank, we had a lot of success in the sales, but it just didn't get easier. And it was always really hard to get that growth growth in that in those products. So that's definitely what I would define as my failure. There were parts of the products that worked, but a lot that didn't.

[00:41:24.730] - Speaker 2

How do you go about, that's the one thing that you've pushed and you've been going out there and you're on sales bandwagon, and this is what you're pushing. How do you then, because I know, well, this is how I would feel like when I had to go back and say, okay, great, we're not going to stock these anymore with you. Does that hurt a little bit, when this was your baby? Yeah.

[00:41:45.830] - Speaker 1

And I think at that time, I didn't have any other products. I didn't have the protein pancakes or the peanut butter bars. So at the time I was going, okay, I've got this great brand and this great business, but I'm And I'm not growing. And I'm working so hard to try to grow the business on these three breakfast toppers, and it wasn't happening. So then you start going, okay, well, should I shut down the business? And that was something I definitely considered. Or do I evolve? And I obviously evolved and got what worked. And this is all just through talking to customers and having a little bit of a gut feel myself. But understanding what is it that customers love about these products, but what is it that stops people from buying them regularly. How do you do your research?

[00:42:34.060] - Speaker 2

How did you, with your customers, do you go back through their email orders and things and then just reach out to them and just say, what is it?

[00:42:42.040] - Speaker 1

No, I mean, we do some online surveys, and that's a really good way to survey a large number of people. But especially three years ago, when all this is happening, we're a very small business, and it's me and maybe one part-time one employee, and with a really limited budget. So it's not like we're running focus groups and getting the most up to date data about what are the market trends. A lot of it is gut feel. I am a Coda customer myself, So some of it is just what I want to see on the shelves. But also we've done a lot of markets and face to face. And I think it's wonderful when we're at... I mean, we've done the Finders Keepers markets and like big design markets where you have an opportunity to talk directly to your customers face to face.

[00:43:34.400] - Speaker 2

How long did it take you from concept to getting the peanut butter bars ready? How long the process is that?

[00:43:44.970] - Speaker 1

That was a long time. All of the products before bars were dry blend. So I started in the early days with a commercial kitchen certificate for my in our own apartment. And I was making it breakfast offers for a few months. And then we got into a commercial kitchen and we had a contract manufacturer. But when we got to wanting to launch bars, there's so much equipment required to make bars, and I wasn't in a position to launch my own manufacturing facility. So finding someone that would work with me was really challenging. And I went to handfuls and handfuls of manufacturers all around Melbourne, and they were all like, yeah, sure. Minimum runs are hundred thousand units. And I was looking at trying to do a minimum run of 500 units. So I was well off.

[00:44:43.820] - Speaker 2

And also because you're products don't have the nasty crap in them, you probably don't have the same shelf life as some of those other products.

[00:44:51.940] - Speaker 1

Yeah, definitely not. No. Some products have got a two year shelf life. In the cold aisle where we're sitting now, some of the products, a lot of them are actually made overseas in US or in Asia, and then they have a two year shelf life. And we're putting product on the shelf that was made within a few weeks and will be sold within a few weeks. So when you're buying a Koja Bar, it's got a six or a nine month shelf life on it. It's much shorter. We don't use any preservatives or anything like that. It's just a shorter supply chain. So we're able to... Turn over. Yeah. Our bars are made in regional Victoria, and then they're delivered to the Coles. They say the Vic and New South Wales a week after they've been made. And then the Coles team gets them to stores.

[00:45:41.480] - Speaker 2

Yeah, because it blows me thinking a two year shelf life for something.

[00:45:45.730] - Speaker 1


[00:45:46.630] - Speaker 2

If you think about what you were saying earlier in the interview, you think about what's in your cupboard. None of that has to... Anything that's a whole food doesn't have a two year shelf life on it. What are they putting in an. That's enough on its own, isn't it? Yeah.

[00:46:06.340] - Speaker 1

I think there was an interesting statistic I heard recently that was there's a direct correlation between the shelf life of a product and the profitability of that range. When you think of an example, if it's a Marsbar, if they can increase the shelf life of that product, they're going to make more profit off that product. And so for big So for the corporate food manufacturers, they're always looking for the next chemical that means that they can have a longer shelf life. But I think when it comes to food, and particularly for us at Koja, it's not about trying to make more money. It's about trying to put out a better product.

[00:46:49.270] - Speaker 2

Well, I think that's nice integrity. And I think that's... Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's something that definitely makes people think before they're putting something into their body.

[00:47:01.200] - Speaker 1

Yeah. Yeah. I hope so. Awesome.

[00:47:04.560] - Speaker 2

Oh, my God. That's been such a great fun adventure that we've been on on this journey today. I love it because we really have covered a lot. And I'm grateful for that. You've been really honest with the ups and downs of business. And that's life. And it's also reality in business. So thank you for being amazing and sharing that with us.

[00:47:23.180] - Speaker 1

Thank you for the opportunity.

[00:47:25.770] - Speaker 2

Thanks for joining us for this episode of Brilliant Brains and Beautiful Minds. I'm Melanie Bernicke. See you next time.


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