Money & Career

Jess Thomas Sold Her Car To Start A Protein Ball Business

Health Lab is now a multi-million dollar empire

Let’s be honest, we’ve all had a 3pm sugar craving. Instead of hitting the vending machine and spending $2.50 on a Mars Bar like the rest of us, Jess Thomas, a marketing manager, started a healthy snack business.

“I used to get really terrible sugar cravings in the afternoon. One day instead of grabbing a chocolate bar, I brought some protein balls to work that I’d made on the weekend and they were devoured in seconds,” Thomas explains. “That’s when I decided to start my own protein ball business.”

To do it, Thomas quit her job in marketing and sold her car for $5,000. “It was a 2004 sky-blue Toyota Corolla and it was the only [asset] I had. I’m terrible at saving, and needed money to invest in the business, so I sold my car. That’s the only investment we’ve ever had,” she says of founding Health Lab.

Thomas used the money to build the Health Lab website, buy ingredients, a food processor and business cards. It wasn’t glamorous, she says, “There were a lot of long days, meltdowns and tears. I worked around the clock and was covered in coconut constantly,” she says, with a laugh.

The first month that Thomas worked on Health Lab full time, she quadrupled her sales. From rolling balls in her kitchen, Thomas moved through three different commercial kitchens before outgrowing them all and finding a manufacturer.

Fast-forward three-and-a-half years and Health Lab is now a multi-million dollar business with nine employees – eight of whom are women. “We call them babes with balls,” says Thomas. Those balls are stocked in 3,500 retailers, including Rebel Sports, Lorna Jane and Toys R Us. For Thomas, it’s that unprecedented growth that she’s most proud of. Oh and, “Being stocked on Virgin Airlines was pretty cool.”

Cash flow has been an ongoing challenge for Thomas. “I’ve got a very strict Chief Financial Officer, who’s actually my husband,” she admits. Being entirely self-funded has forced Thomas to get creative with the resources that she has – and use her hustling skills.

When Thomas set out, she wanted to help busy women who didn’t have time to make snacks themselves, by giving them a healthy alternative to the office cookie jar. “I don’t like the idea of guilt when it comes to food. So I wanted to provide a guilt-free option,” she says. And that’s exactly what she’s done.

Thomas says women who want to start a business should back themselves. “I read that only a third of businesses are started by women, and I think that comes down to our fear of failure. Women, especially, are guilty of self-doubt. Managing that mindset and believing in yourself is important,” she explains. Here’s how…

Secret to success:  Eighty percent of success comes down to mindset. You need to learn to get out of your own way when it comes to growing a business. Fear of failure and self-doubt are natural, but listening to it is a choice.

Breakfast of champions: A protein ball or two – naturally.

Best advice: Guilt is a wasted emotion.

Hardest lesson: Learning when it’s time to let someone go in your business.

Best job interview tip: Nail the 3 P’s; Preparation, Presentation and Personality!

Coffee order: A strong latte.

Wind down: Definitely a chilled glass of chardonnay…

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