Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I enjoy the process of watching an idea become reality. Lots of people have ideas but taking that next step is difficult, because there's always risk involved; the possibility of it not working. I think most entrepreneurs are optimists. If they weren't they probably wouldn't have given it a go.
I studied neuroscience at university and had no formal training in business. You don't have to - I've learnt everything as I go along. When I came up with Chia I trialled it in Nelson first - at the local supermarket, cafe, and organic shop. After that it started taking on a life of its own and for the most part I now just run around trying to keep up.
What was the spark that set you on the journey to set up Chia and how has it grown since?
Chia was about creating nutrient-rich options. We all know that artificial flavours, preservatives, sugar and so on are bad but I wanted to evolve that way of thinking to focus not just on what is not in our food, but to what is. It's the nutrient value of your food that makes you healthy and gives you sustained energy, so I wanted to create an option for people where they would notice the difference.
After trialling Chia in Nelson I went to Wellington and it was embraced by the cafe scene there. From there interest grew and we had gyms, yoga studios, cafes, delicatessens, vegetable shops, and supermarkets asking for it around the country. We have new flavours and lines we're working on and a small team in different locations around New Zealand. Our first exports are ready to go into Singapore at the end of the month.
What have been the major challenges for you in establishing Chia?
The main challenge with Chia is bringing something completely unique to market. You can have the best product in the world, but if no one knows it exists or if they don't know why it's good then you don't have a business.
So education is crucial to the success of Chia. I see the staff at a cafe or vegetable shop as my representatives; if they understand the benefits of Chia and have experienced it themselves they will pass this on to the customer. I always do my best to look after them and pop in if I'm in the area to thank them for their support.
The other problem with creating a unique product is that standard equipment doesn't work. Chia won't run through your average bottling line so we had to develop equipment to suit the needs of the product. This was a big learning curve with Chia hitting the roof and bottles exploding. I can laugh about it now I'm on the other side, but it wasn't much fun at the time. Part of being an entrepreneur is being a problem solver.
What role models, mentors or networks have been influential in your journey as an entrepreneur?
Your local community is the best place to get help. Nelson Fresh Choice was the first supermarket to take Chia on board and taught me a lot about the best way to enter the supermarket markets. I've also learnt a lot from other Nelson companies that are a step ahead of me like Pic's Peanut Butter and Proper Crisps.
New Zealanders aren't very good at asking for help; we often struggle away with a problem that our neighbour would know the answer to. The same applies to business - learning and sharing knowledge has been an essential part of the growth of Chia.
What do you think it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
Being adaptable and creative, because business is not going to follow a plan. Opportunities will arise, equipment will break, markets will change and you need the ability to evolve with those changes and see solutions outside the box.
Also, being positive. Because you spend most of your day being a problem solver you will often feel like all you have are problems. You don't have time to acknowledge when things go right because you're too busy focusing on the next problem. I think in order to stay sane you have to be able to keep the positivity up and try to acknowledge when things go right.
And keeping your core values. Your business can evolve and grow but your core values need to be maintained. This is what your brand is based on, and it's what your customers trust.