The stuffy world of private equity firms might seem like a strange pairing for online mum health community The Healthy Mummy, but founder Rhian Allen knew it was exactly what she needed to keep her business thriving.
And having never taken out a cent of investment or withdrawn a business loan, the growth of Allen’s $22 million fitness and weight-loss empire is all the more impressive.
“It’s always just been myself as the owner of the business, and as we started to grow over 100% every year, I started to be approached by a number of people interested in buying the business, but I didn’t want to sell it,” Allen told SmartCompany.
“I’d been approached by a number of private equity firms as well, but a lot of people advised me many of those firms weren’t the nicest to go into business with.”
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Despite her trepidations, the business owner met with the founder of Whiteoak Capital, and last year locked in a multi-million dollar deal to sell 50% of the business to the firm. Today, just over 12 months later, Allen’s decision is starting to bear fruit, having successfully launched her business into the UK last year, and is gearing up for a US launch soon.
“One of the things we were always asked about is a US or UK launch, and I knew I couldn’t do it under my own reign, it was too much of a risk,” she says.
“Getting on a stage so big has really helped us expand and scale the business. Not only did we launch a new app into the UK, but we’ve launched manufacturing over there too, which is such a huge thing I would have never thought we could do.”
The mummy mogul
Allen’s journey in the business world started near the turn of the millennium, working as a sales director for corporate media brand ACP Magazines. Like many living the corporate life, the founder was uninspired and passionless and started studying via an online nutrition course on the side.
In doing so Allen found a love for the world of nutrition and weight-loss, and realised a lot of the information peddled around the space was largely “gimmicky”. However, the interest stayed as an aside, with Allen continuing to work in various different corporate media roles.
“It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first baby and was gaining weight like crazy did I realise there was nothing out there that really helped women get fit and lose weight after pregnancy,” she says.
“Being in that position, I realised this was something I could really apply myself to, and when I was six months pregnant I quit my job and sold my house to start The Healthy Mummy.”
With no experience running a business before, friends and family thought Allen was crazy to throw everything into her business from the get-go, but on October 1, 2010, the Healthy Mummy was born.
Having filled a previously unfilled niche in the Australian market, mums quickly jumped on board with the Healthy Mummy, which started out selling its weight-loss programs and health products before branching further into specialised smoothies and a range of books, blogs, and even day-to-day news.
It took the business three years to turn a profit, but today the website has over one million unique visitors a month, which has led to a unique and tight-knit support community forming for mums across the country.
“I never thought it would be the size it is today, it’s literally so humbling to see million of mums use our products and be part of these communities,” she says.
“I can’t believe how far it’s come.”
That million-strong community of shoppers is also used by Allen as a way to seek out what new features her users are keen on, with the business having curated a group of 200,000 mums it can test new features or concepts with before launch.
She says she’s always turned to her community to help steer her decisions regarding the business, but this group of customers has formalised the process. She relies on it to prevent her from making “costly mistakes” while running The Healthy Mummy.
“I’ll be thinking of doing something and we’ll put it to them and ask them to vote. If 190,000 of them say yes, it’s an easy decision,” she says.
“We even let them vote on the name of one of our bestselling books.”
While the world of health crazes and fitness fads continues to whir on, Allen has blinders on, saying she’s never really paid much attention to other businesses or what else is happening in the industry.
She takes solace in health always being “a focus” for people, and sees it as her duty to help them be more informed about food and fitness.
An untrained leader
Allen has recently been named a finalist for the CEO Magazine’s Retail Chief Executive of the Year award, something she’s mildly baffled by due to having no formal leadership training in any of her roles.
She says her leadership style is “firm but fair”, endeavouring to treat people like she would want to be treated and empowering her workers where possible, viewing that as the only way her business can truly grow and scale.
“I want people to enjoy their jobs and get satisfaction from it. I’ve had a lot of bad managers, and that’s taught me a good way to lead. I’ve never had any training, just an enormous amount of passion and drive,” she says.
Looking back over her eight-plus years in business, Allen says she’s learnt a “load” of stuff and made many mistakes, but believes those things are inevitable for anyone doing business.
Moving on quickly and not dwelling on the mistakes you make are the most critical things business owners can do when they screw up, says Allen, otherwise you risk losing focus.
“You have to be resilient and bounce back. You’re going to make mistakes, so it’s about moving on and not dwelling on the past,” she says.
“Another mistake people make is not focusing on the sales side of the business. Sales isn’t a dirty word, and if you don’t focus on sales and marketing no one is ever going to know how great your product is.”