Everyone knows the life of a founder is hard. And the past two weeks have been the most difficult of my journey. I won’t get into the reasons here (that’s for another blog post) but it culminated in a trusted organisation that is well-known in the Sydney startup community, a non-profit whose mission is “helping tech startups grow”, publicly act in a manner that caused potentially irrevocable damage to You Chews.
I was bewildered, upset, hurt and questioning everything. Why was I putting myself through this? Why am I sacrificing and busting my ass everyday when clearly I’m not offering any value, especially to an organisation whose sole purpose is to “help build the startup scene here in Sydney”? Are all my efforts completely wasted? I’m not from Australia. I’ve seen my family twice in three years. I’m missing watching my nephews grow up because I’m trying to make a go of this business. What I am even doing here?
Then my inbox pinged.
Six months ago, a former You Chews intern, Kris O’Sullivan, asked if I would be the topic of his thesis for one of his courses. I agreed and answered a few questions via email, then promptly forgot about it. Then two nights ago, Kris emailed me with the feature, telling me he got a distinction, thanking me for my help, and asking me if it would read it.
It was just… everything I needed to hear. Be tenacious. Keep going. Recognise it’s going to be tough. Anyone can do it. Stop at nothing to achieve your goals. It will get better. And it was in my own words.
I decided to post on Facebook about my internal struggle and how Kris’s email and subsequent article lifted my spirits. The outpouring of support was comforting and much needed. A few of the commenters asked to read the whole article, so with Kris’s permission, I’ve posted it here. I haven’t touched a thing – it’s reprinted verbatim.
Before you read I have to say – if you are reading this blog post, thank you. Thank you for spending your time, that you could be spending elsewhere, to be reading this. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to meet Kris, and I am bloody proud to have made such an impression on him. Some days, everything goes wrong, but in Kris’s case, I must be doing something right.
You Chews Your Own Destiny
By Kristopher O’Sullivan
‘Nothing worth having is easy’ is one of life’s great mantra’s, one in which some people have experienced time and time again but not all have faced the same struggles that a founder of a start up business has. The start up business world is not always a kind one, there are all time highs and deep lows, each providing the people involved with further desire and determination to succeed – but sometimes it can leave you with a sense of there being no option but to give up. Although there were times in which she thought she could give it all away, she didn’t. And she has reaped the benefits. She is Liz Kaelin, the founder of You Chews from the MuruD Class of 2015. A woman of great pride, willingness to work hard and sacrificing the things she likes for the better good of her company, she has truly is the model founder of a business. Her journey from the other side of the world with times of fulfillment, despair, experiencing the highs, the lows and everything in between is an incredible one, one that proves anybody can make their dream a reality.
Elizabeth Kaelin was born and raised in New Jersey, US however migrated to Australia in September 2012 to pursue a stable life after moving around the US for her career for the best part of 5 years. Liz has always been a worldly character, leaving her family home at the young age of 18, moving to New Hampshire to obtain her degree in Public Health Nutrition, before moving to London to complete her masters. During this time, Liz realized home is where your family is, moving back to the states to further her studies – and to experience some of her mother’s incredible home cooked dishes again, something that ignited her passion food, ‘Food was at the center of our family life’ Liz recalls, ‘My mother insisted we eat dinner as a family together every night’. Liz’s desire for great food has always held a place close to her heart ever since she can recall, ‘ My mother tells a story of when I was a young child and being difficult to put to sleep. “Go to sleep”, my mother would say, “and in the morning for breakfast I’ll make you eggs and bacon and pancakes…” and I would go right to sleep.’. Although she was too young to realise, this passion for food developed into a burning desire for more and would, over 20 years later, lead her to great things.
Liz obtained work as a nutrition adviser with Nestle in 2008, something that left her satisfied and seemingly fulfilling her dreams, ‘’I’ve wanted to be a dietitian since I was fourteen so I found my career extremely satisfying as I never really wanted to do anything else’ however, after being exposed to the corporate world, Liz realized that there was more to life than sales, product development and target demographics, this was when the idea of “You Chews” was born. “It was after I arrived in Sydney and was working in the nutrition adviser role for Nestle..”, she remembers. A part of this role meant she was to hold sales pitches to local GP’s, many of which were only attended if there were a free meal involved. Liz quickly learnt that although catering was preferred, providing a high quality, fresh and tasty meal was a must when closing a deal. Liz believes that food ignite something in people, ‘it brings people happiness, it brings a whole group of people who may not even know each other together, it brings so much more than the average person would expect’. After many years of less-than-popular catering and unsatisfied clients, she thought ‘what if there was a platform where people like me who were looking for great catering could connect with the best local food businesses for their catering needs?’.
(Above: Liz at MuruD headquarters)
At this point in time, Liz had created a dream for herself, saving local businesses from falling short of their mainstream, hugely popular and in some cases, poor quality counterparts. She began developing relationships with young entrepreneurs and put her idea of sourcing local food and providing corporate companies with the opportunity to have a great quality catering to test at Sydney’s Lean Machine start up event, where other like-minded entrepreneurs would gather for a weekend to obtain advice, guidance and validity as to whether their service, or business was viable. “I got a good enough response that weekend to keep going’ she remembers of that first public event in which ‘You Chews’ was a part of. It was the start of something bigger than she could ever imagine and where her desire to succeed was cemented.
Continual pitches to various investors, at all levels and through varying platforms, Liz came to learn about MuruD. MuruD first started in 2014 and is an accelerated start up program, funded by Telstra which enables young entrepreneurs, like Liz, to obtain funding in return for a small stake in their business as well as having industry heavyweights guide the founders to make their business a successful, and profitable business. You Chew’s big break came from a man named Ben Ried, who had met Liz at an event where they got talking about You Chews and her business model. “Ben took my business card and emailed me a few days later, asking if I would cater for an event sponsored by Telstra…he turned out being the business development manager for MuruD and the event was MuruD launch party” Liz reminiscences.
Though meeting someone with such a high influence on the program is a positive, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t years of hard work before ‘You Chews’ became a part of the program. ‘I applied for MuruD that year and made the top 20 but didn’t make it to the top 10… we were told to come back the next year with a website prototype’ and that is exactly what she did. She worked tirelessly for the following 12 months to cement her place in program.
One year later and ‘You Chews’ was selected for 2015 intake. Her hard work had paid off, but what she didn’t realize was how tough this program would be. “My goal for so long was to get into the program, to participate in an accelerator to learn how to build a global business, but I had no idea how much it entailed and how tough it would be’ but Liz was left with no option but to fight, fight for her dream and fight for the strength to keep going.
MuruD opened a lot of new opportunities for You Chews by creating powerful networks with large companies, offering insightful workshops and opening their business to growth far quicker than Liz and her co-founder and real life partner, Phil could have done on their own. ‘muru-D has certainly given us opportunities that we would not have had / would have taken much longer / grown our business and networks more quickly than slogging it out alone’, though she admits that it is her determination she believes has lead to her where she is today, ‘But the only thing that enables success is, in fact, sheer determination’. Her co-founder Phil seconds this ‘Liz has always had this determination to succeed that made is easier for us to work together to meeting our common goal’ and that was to ensure that they did not fail. Giving up their lives to be a part of MuruD is a testament to that goal, with Phil explaining. ‘When we were accepted into MuruD, we quit our jobs, we moved houses and we decided we would give it all that we had, what other choice did we have?’.
Once You Chews were into MuruD, herself and Phil stopped at nothing to create a successful business, knowing that operating a business was not going to be easy. ‘Starting any kind of business is going to be tough; building a successful startup is even tougher. Part of being in a startup is beginning your own mini-industry, which means you have to do and learn everything from scratch. It’s very different than doing something like starting a photography business’ Liz states, aware of the fact that with technological advancements occurring in todays world that nearly anyone could open a business with the push of a couple of buttons by operating through the means of social media. Social media has changed the way in which the world operates, including the business world, however, a quick and easy business model was never something Liz was interested in. ‘We were willing to work the hard yards, have the sleepless nights glued to the computer screen – knowing that each decision you make at that exact moment was a crucial one’.
When asked about the struggles the founder of a start up business faces, her response was simple, ‘Nearly everything is a struggle’ she states, without hesitation. ‘Every part of the journey has been a challenge – learning what customers want, dealing with vendors, trying to build a website, hiring staff, growth metrics, online marketing, project and strategy planning for overseas expansion… I could go on.’ Some of the hardest things would not only be about the business side of things, but the personal struggles and learning curves that have to happen, ‘For me though the biggest challenge has been learning to focus on what’s important. With those much on and so many pressing issues vying for your attention it’s imperative to figure out what’s most important to your business, and to figuring it out quickly. I still struggle with those decisions every day, but one of my mantras is that everything is hard before it’s easy. So I keep going. ‘. That attitude has allowed Liz to feel some fantastic high’s during the program, some in which she will never forget. ‘The final demo night, where we presented our progress, was a really special moment. All of us in the program were really close by that time, so to have a night where we were recognised was incredible.’
The start up business industry in Australia is experiencing some of its highest growth to date, with 62,160 enterprises establishing in the second quarter of 2014, up from 50,339 in the first. This by no means suggests that each of these businesses will succeed, in fact, Liz believes that due the hard work and determination that a company owner must have, that there are extremely large numbers of failed businesses, ‘there is such a high dropout / failure rate and that is why persistence in startup founders is valued so highly by investors’ Liz says asked about the key motivators to a successful business, ‘I am 100% convinced that I have been able to get as far as I have and done as much as I have because I haven’t given up’ she insists referring to the passion and drive that you must have for your business before you can fully immerse yourself in making your dream a reality. It is clear that in today’s world, there are a large portion of failed businesses, with almost 11% of start up businesses failing in their first year of operation. (Deloitte Australia 2012)
A person who knows all to well about the failures of a business is Joshua Cuve , the owner of Leite, who has reflected on his business experience and commends Liz for sticking by her business and beliefs during the tough times. His business was only operational for approximately 7 months before he threw in the towel, it all proving too difficult at that particular time, ‘I look back and realize I wasn’t in the right headspace… I had a million other things happening in my life and Leite just wasn’t a priority’ he reflects, ‘I commend people like Liz who have stuck by their business and worked incredibly hard to succeed’. Although he ‘holds no regrets about Leite’, due to his lack in belief of that particular business, he does mention that the business industry is not for everyone, ‘Personally, I believe you have be a certain person to run a successful business’ he says, ‘I can tell you back then, I wasn’t that person…”.
Though Sydney, where You Chews was born, has the highest number of start up businesses in Australia, equating to 6 times more than the number of start up’s in Melbourne, Sydney also has the highest number of start up failures. According to a report, created by Silocone Beach that outlines the facts relating to the start up business industry in Australia, it is said that only 95.8% of start up’s are deemed as unsuccessful. With such a large percentage of failures, it is understandable why there is an angst amongst the start up business community, which can sometimes prove too much for its members. It takes courage, determination and drive – something that not all people are prepared to commit too, but something that Liz has come to terms with over the duration of her adventure thus far, ‘You have to get used to it being hard for a really long time, you will be out of your comfort zone daily, you’ll be scared sh)tless half the time, but you have to keep going!’.
It is a shame that many start up businesses never get the chance the shine, considering many have incredible ideas that could impact our society, however, fall short of ever really making it. Of course, it is some company founders that allow for this to happen, however, there are a large portion that society doesn’t get behind – no matter how hard how much effort a founder may put in. Comparing Australian statistics to those of the US, start up businesses are five times more likely to support a start up business, with companies earning 4.8 times more than Australian businesses and earning 100 times more by the time that they are able scale their operations. Joel Cox from Deliotte Australia, the company behind study, believes it is mainly because Australians are less willing to throw themselves into something that is previously unheard of, ‘It is a shame that Australians seem a little less willing to support these companies, some of them have incredible ideas that just cannot seem to get off the ground’.
There has been a slight increase in support for start up’s, with an increase in successful business within the last 4 years, however, very little in comparison to overseas. He believes it will take time, though is on its way, ‘I mean, if you look overseas, the statistics show that it seems to start slow, then there’s a boom because people realize that these companies are bringing ideas to the table that really can change our world’. You Chews, being one of the lucky ones, accounting for the 5% of successful start up’s is a great achievement and one that Liz can’t thank anyone enough for, ‘Looking at the statistics is scary, it makes me so appreciative of the support I have received and pushes me to work harder every single day!’.
Earlier this year, Liz was nominated for businesswoman of the year run by Telstra. This award is the longest running women’s award program in Australia, running for the past two decades which recognizes hard working women in Australia who have excelled in their chosen career path over the previous 12 months. Although the nomination came as a surprise the Liz, being recognized for her hard work in 2015 came with great appreciation and humility, speaking of the help that this kind of recognition can aid the local businesses that she is trying to support, ‘being recognised for the hard work does definitely help get through the tough times. It’s always nice to hear that people appreciate what we’re doing, especially when they’ve had our food and recommend us to others, which means more support for small local businesses.’ Her care and support for local business shines through Liz as she smiles whilst speaking of these businesses that she is determine to help to succeed, something to be further recognized and admired. The award will be announced in late October, although Liz has no expectations, ‘I’m just happy to be nominated and recognized!’ she says, with a humble smile.
When asking Liz whether her dream has truly become a reality, she finds this question difficult to answer. Most people are willing to settle with creating a successful, profitable business – but not Liz. ‘That’s a tough question. I am truly grateful and proud of where we are at, but I’m a perfectionist.’ Insisting that she always wonders where she could have improved to end up with a better, or different outcome and although she recognizes her achievements, she is humble in saying that there are still goals she wants to meet, ‘While we’ve done extremely well in the short time we’ve been in business, we still have a long way to go before my dreams come true’. It is this kind of attitude that is respected in the industry, that it is a good thing to strive to do better – keeping company founders striving for a better business and more success can only lead to good things.
With MuruD coming up to its 2016 intake, there will be many hopefuls out there perfecting their application, trying to gain acceptance into one of the largest and most well known start up business accelerator programs. There is one main piece of advice that Liz offers to make that dream become a reality and that is to familarise yourself with the industry and get to know those involved in it, “Get out there and meet as many people as possible trying to do the same thing. You don’t need your own idea or anything like that – just start networking and getting out there to see what others are doing. It’ll help inspire you to define your dreams and goals and make a start, however small”. Co-Founder, Phil, agrees with Liz in recommending anybody who wishes to become a part of a similar program needs to familarise yourself with the industry so that you are somewhat prepared, if you are successful, ‘learn the industry, meet the people and use that to guide your ideas and motivations’.
You Chews has continued to grow since its departure from MuruD earlier this year and seems to be going from strength to strength. It now has over 200 regular clients, which has tripled their revenue since the beginning of their adventure 14 months ago. The company has constantly bought on new vendors to supply to their clients with the best fresh food in Sydney, conquering boring lunches one at a time. Although You Chews is currently only based it Sydney, it won’t be long until we will see You Chews infiltrating the rest of the Australian market with plans to move into Melbourne within the next 4-6 months. The pure growth of the company speaks for itself, anybody really can make their dream become a reality and the key to that is to remember ‘nothing worth having is easy’.
If you would like to see more about You Chews please head to their website or contact Liz directly at firstname.lastname@example.org