Ben Doolan started his healthy eating business FivePointFour while he was still at university in 2012. Today, the Queenslander’s company boasts around 15,000 customers and more than 100,000 Facebook fans.
FivePointFour is on track to turn over $15 million this financial year and hopes to expand its reach by targeting people looking to get fit and improve their overall health. SmartCompany sat down with Ben to find out how his business grew from his kitchen into what it is today and what advice he has for other young, budding entrepreneurs.
I was doing nutrition and health-related degrees at uni and doing athletics professionally. I was also working part-time at a nutrition supplements shop being their nutritionist on site.
So I guess I started off with a bit of passion for health.
I thought, my performance has increased so significantly from my own diet that maybe I can help other guys out.
I started writing out their diets but they didn’t end up improving very much. So I turned up to their houses and asked them to show me the food they cooked for me – but it never ended up happening.
I just started cooking for them for free, saying ‘you’ll just pay for the food and I’ll cook it for you’.
Three or four guys got really good results and they really liked it. So I said ‘why don’t I do this for more people and you guys pay for it as a service’.
In a few months it got to me cooking about 500 meals on the weekend whilst I was working full-time and still studying at uni.
On a Friday I would finish work at 8pm in the city and then go to the local Woolies or Coles and fill up my whole car with four shopping trollies worth of food. Then I would cook it all up until Sunday morning.When I would finish, which would be at about 1am, I would go and drive everyone’s food out.
When I was doing it I wanted to be perceived as someone I wasn’t, so I told customers I had delivery drivers that did it. But I would just hire Wicked [Campers’] vans. It was a bit embarrassing, I wouldn’t knock on their door or anything I would just drop it off.
But it started affecting my uni and work. So I asked myself if this was something that I wanted to be doing.
I borrowed some money from my mum and said, ‘you know what, I’m just going to lease a kitchen and see how it goes’. I hired one chef and gave him pretty much all the profit.
Everyone always said to me you must have always wanted to be in business. But to be completely honest, I didn’t want to start a business – I just wanted to help people.
I felt really good when people got really good results and was literally making no money out of it, but was feeling good for myself.
I kept driving the meals out and we got to about 100 customers and thought I should register an ABN and make it a legitimate business. I was then introduced to a marketing manager.
Within three months I signed a contract with her and she became my business partner. Since then, we figured out why we were going backwards with cashflow and forecasting and that’s when it turned into a proper business.
You need a good accountant and bookkeeper onboard. When you have a business partner, you also have time to look through supplier agreements and look at better cost structures and all that kind of stuff.
Just follow what you’re passionate about.
I would get really down when not making any money and down in the dumps, but then I’d get a text message from someone saying, ‘I just want to let you know that you’ve changed my son’s life’. That kind of stuff made my day.
The second thing I’d say to other entrepreneurs is surround yourself with positive, like-minded people.
My brother is my rock. He convinced me to just give the business a go.He’s a doctor and when he’s down he calls me, and I call him when I’m really down.
The number one reason we’ve managed to grow so fast without the wheels coming off is cashflow. Money needs to come in before money goes out.Budgeting and forecasting correctly is the number one thing that has allowed our business to grow.
I’ve got 60 staff now but in saying that I’ve probably been through 60 staff to get to these 60 staff. It’s so hit and miss sometimes. But when you find the right people, like how I’ve got key members in my business, it’s so good.
It’s hard to find the right people but when you do, hold onto them.
They make your business 10 times easier and 10 times more enjoyable.