Sydney Creative People: Naked Paleo

Sydney Creative People: Naked Paleo

Today's post is the first in our new series of blog posts titled 'Sydney Creative People'. After a few months of re-vamping our website and of writing and photographing this new set of interviews, it's time to start posting them. I have to say, I'm pretty excited at the changes to the website. I think we're in a better place to show that Content Space is all about promoting and telling the stories of Sydney small businesses, and capturing the real, honest, guts n'glory moments that small business owners face every day.

The first story in the new series is about an awesome little health food business called Naked Paleo. Walking into the Naked Paleo packing warehouse in Brookvale is like walking into an urban Melbourne warehouse: there's high ceilings, heaps of beautiful light, artwork painted onto the walls, a plant installation on the wall, and there's a fully-operational coffee machine sitting on the counter at the side. You might see lots of converted warehouses south of the Harbour Bridge, but northside, it's actually pretty rare. The space has been beautifully renovated and decorated by Naked Paleo owners Jen Thompson and Blake Poole, and it's a sign of the attention to detail they show to their entire business.

They've been operating Naked Paleo for the last two years, and things are going well. Call it a stroke of luck, or just magnificent timing, but the 'paleo way of life' is something almost everyone has heard of (thanks, Pete Evans!). All that press has to help when the name of your business has the world 'paleo' in it. The explosion of health foods, including paleo, has been kind of astounding to watch over the last few years.

How amazing is it that we can now walk into most shops and find some kind of nutritious, yummy something? I first came across Naked Paleo when because I was looking for a healthy snack I could buy for my little boy, who has some food allergies. At the time, good snack options were really hard to find, so being able to easily get my hands on products like this has been a life-saver.

Jen and Blake have spent the last two years perfecting the recipe to their Cacao Almond Paleo bar, and getting it produced and distributed across Australia. And after months of planning, they've just released their next line.

This is their story in Jen's words...

Jen Thomson and Blake Poole - owners of Naked Paleo. Photography by  Richard Whitbread .

Jen Thomson and Blake Poole - owners of Naked Paleo. Photography by Richard Whitbread.

I used to be a personal trainer...

After working long hours for many months, I had let my nutrition slip and didn’t feel like I was a good example anymore. I investigated different things and thought I’d give paleo a whirl. Within a month, I felt so much better. That was five years ago. I started making snacks and treats for friends and they suggested I should consider selling them at markets and to the gyms I worked at. I let the idea brew for a few more months before I decided I had nothing to lose. Blake was also changing his way of eating and because he was unhappy with his job and wanted something more, we decided to give it a go together.

To begin with, it was hard...

I struggled to have confidence in our product at the beginning. I hated getting people to try it for fear of them not liking it. But as the positive feedback came, so did our confidence in what we were doing. Learning how to speak to people with the confidence of a business owner was also tough. We were making it up as we went along, but we had to learn how to present to people as confident business owners who knew exactly what we were doing. Eventually it becomes reality.

If I had my way, there would be...

A section in your local independent health food store with multiple products, with our little owl logo shining out – and customers would know when they saw that logo that it meant quality, tasty and healthy food. We want to be able to compete with the big chocolate and snack companies and be just as readily available as those products, so people always have a better choice. We want to expand our reach in Australia first, but eventually move to NZ, Canada and the U.K.

On the growth of the health food industry...

There has definitely been a huge focus on the quality of food and it has only made our message easier. People are more intrigued with what is IN the products they buy and will read labels more often. Consumers are also willing to pay a little more for good products than before. It’s becoming quality over quantity. Paleo has had good and bad media but we see it as all great for our business. If people are talking about it, it can’t be a bad thing. There are mixed ideas of what paleo actually is, but I think it’s becoming more understood that it just stands for simple, nutritious food and doesn’t mean mountains of meat and no bread. We are just at the tip of the iceberg for changing health. There is so much more work to be done to make everyone in this country much healthier, let alone the world. I want to help everyone realise they can feel full of energy and happy every day, but, I try not to preach so Naked Paleo is the perfect way for me to make my way into their lives.

On digital marketing and social media...

When we first started we had no idea what we were doing. I think I had a personal Instagram but never used it. And we didn’t have budget for marketing so we had to learn pretty quick. Now Instagram is our biggest media avenue. It allows us to connect and find new customers and our customers to stay in contact with us. I can’t fly to Melbourne or Perth every week to source new stockists, but I can find them on Instagram and start the conversation in a more relaxed way. Our strategy is simple. I post a few times a day, and try to stick to the theme. I’ve tried to fit into different style themes over the months but just being me (pastel colours and silly jokes) is what works best. Facebook is forever changing, but we try to post different content on there occasionally. More informative posts with more reading required. We are yet to fully commit to the land of dark posts and targeted audiences.

Jen Thomson and Blake Poole - owners of Naked Paleo. Photography by  Richard Whitbread .

Jen Thomson and Blake Poole - owners of Naked Paleo. Photography by Richard Whitbread.

We try so hard to just be ourselves...

We have definitely been influenced by design trends. I’m drawn to design that is clean and simple and doesn’t scream at you with bright colours and slogans, so that’s where we started with our product. We knew it would need to have a natural look and feel, and the rest just fell into place. When you only want to use natural colour palates, I think it’s actually a lot easier because there aren’t as many options. But, other things become important like the style of text, and the feel of the website. We have so many creative people in our lives that are in different jobs, so inspiration is usually quite easy. And we’re really lucky that we have people around us, that we trust, who are happy to give constructive criticism.

When I want to recharge, I train...

Quite a lot. I coach a few hours a week at CrossFit Athletic in Mona Vale because I love it and it gives my brain a break from my own business. I love to lift weights and I’m forever on a mission to have any kind of muscles. Blake also trains CrossFit but loves the ocean. He swims at least four times a week before work, and will head down there in the afternoon if it’s been particularly hot, or if we’ve had a tough day in the office. Apart from that we both love food. Eating out with friends is what we usually spend the weekends doing and hunting out the next new place to grab food.

The best thing about owning a business...

Creative freedom. The fact that you can take it in any direction you want. It is totally up to you. And the satisfaction of building something from nothing. We had no idea where we were going when we first started, but we just started and only now, two years in, can we truly see a plan but there’s still no final destination.

Sometimes I feel alone and scared of the next step...

I didn’t realise how much I valued someone telling me ‘good job’ or ‘well done’ in other jobs I’ve had. When you work for yourself, you become responsible for doing that yourself and it’s very easy to forget to give yourself a pat on the back. This is where we work together as a couple really well. I’m the emotional crazy one, Blake is very level-headed and is great at reminding us how far we’ve come and all the little successes we’ve had along the way.

I have learned...

Spend as much as you can afford! If you’re going to use something every day and it’s crucial to your business, spend the money. It’s not worth the stress or hassle down the line dealing with a cheap piece of machinery or a website you’re not happy with. We’ve learned this the hard way and many tears have been shed when equipment has failed us when big orders are due, but thankfully I think we have learned that lesson now.

If I did it all again, I'd tell myself...

To create a great mentor circle: people you trust, opinions you value and somewhere you can get critical advice. It doesn’t need to be people in the same business as you, but just people who are able to offer insight into what you are doing. It feels like the hardest thing in the world to ask someone’s opinion on something you created, but it’s also extremely hard for them to give honest advice without being worried of offending you. You need someone who isn’t afraid to offend you.

To other business owners...

Learn the math. I hate math. Always have, always will. But I regret not learning our numbers from the beginning. I have a better grasp now, but I would say Blake is much better than me. Someone needs to know what is going on. Everyday. Whether it’s pricing, bills, credit cards or cash flow. You need to have a firm hold on it because it can all go completely wrong within a couple months and it might have been caused by one little oversight.

3 businesses that inspire me...

Barrel One Coffee Roasters – Dan has been a best friend of mine since we worked together at Coffee Brothers in Mona Vale. He has run his business by himself for three years and we now share our warehouse together. He is passionate about what he does and it’s obvious he loves it.

Mr & Mrs White – Those guys are the epitome of clean, simple design. It’s just gorgeous. And their warehouse… *gasp* and we’re very lucky to have them make our beautiful display boxes to make our product look so pretty.

Thankyou. – These guys give back everything they can to make the world a better place, and that can’t not be inspiring. Life changing products, beautiful design and a brilliant message.

Next year will be busy...

This year is the first year we will focus on growth. We plan to launch at least five more products this year and when we look at how that will go, the year doesn’t seem long enough. We’re super-excited though. Our original product has done us well, but it’s time to grow. Our customers have stood by us for two years and everyone is eager for what’s next, including us. We can’t wait for everyone to see what we have up our sleeve and we hope everyone loves it as much as we do.