Sydneysider, entrepreneur and all-round super smart guy Justin Babet knows the start-up way of life inside out. He’s had over 15 years' experience across health, technology and human capital, launching incredibly successful start-ups in each field. Impressive, right?
Justin's currently director of Chief Nutrition, a start-up that is uncompromising on health, sustainability and ‘keeping the crap out’ of the snacks we eat. After launching Chief Bar (paleo-friendly, slow-dried meat bars without any nasties), a few years ago, Justin and his team decided to add Chief Collagen (sweet-tasting, hard-working collagen snacks) to the mix. Beauty Food takes it one step further with their collagen cookies and innovative collagen nut butter. Both Chief and Beauty Food have seen a huge increase in online sales recently, and they even just launched on Amazon.
We were excited to help Justin out last year with some content marketing, so we were eager to chat to him about what he’s learned about start-ups over the years, what he thinks most start-ups could improve on and what’s next for Chief Nutrition.
Justin! You've been working in the start-up world for a while now, what skills do you think start-up founders need today?
“Well, in my experience it's very useful to have a broad skill set, but particularly sales and marketing. If you're able to do every role in your business to some degree of competence that's useful because sooner or later you'll need to outsource that or hire someone to do it and you'll do a much better job of managing them if you understand the role. Underpinning all this, is developing the skill of learning: podcasts, audio books and Youtube are a great place to start. My car, long walks and cleaning the house are my university when I'm listening to a podcast.”
What do you think most start-up founders could do better?
“It's the same in any business. Most founders tend to try to do too many things at once (me too) rather than focusing on the most important things that will move the needle. There are 100 things you could be doing to grow your business but, instead of doing them in the right order, founders tend to bounce around and do number 67, then 9, then 43. What we should be doing is 1, then 2, then 3. To do that, start by understanding all the things you need to do then prioritise them into the right order.
I find it helpful to remember the 80:20 rule – 20% of what you do gives you 80% of your results. Until you get to $1M+ revenue, founders need to spend most of their time on things that grow revenue. Note that this isn't just sales and marketing, it can be things like creating better products and delivering amazing customer service. It can also be planning and strategising so you're more effective (see above re doing things in the right order!).
The other big mistake we're always challenged with is the temptation to try to sell to everyone, particularly when going "mainstream" is the ultimate goal. Big companies with huge advertising budgets can sell to everyone. A start-up needs to define a niche they can win in, and build their true fans there first.”
What is your best advice for start-ups that are struggling?
“If you're a tech start-up, I think it's always worth doing the mental exercise of putting aside what you've already built and going back to the fundamentals of the problem/pain you're trying to solve. Check out this great video from Kevin Hale at Y Combinator to get you thinking.
If you have a physical or product business, the best place to start is to ask your customers for feedback (face to face, survey, whatever). They'll tell you what you need to focus on pretty quickly.
If, after doing that, you're still convinced you have the right product or service (and don't need to pivot), then it may be time to really focus on your sales and marketing. If it helps, you can download our marketing mind map, which might give you some ideas.
Also, make sure you ask for help from those who have done it before. Most people will be willing to give you some advice if you ask and that way you're getting the immediate advantage of their years of experience… and mistakes.”
Have you used content marketing in your start ups?
“Yes, absolutely. Content is useful for SEO, of course, but it's also a great way to build and maintain a relationship with your customers by adding value, particularly before you ask for the sale.”
What are the challenges of working on your brands Chief and Beauty Food at the moment?
“Our biggest challenge as a company is creating great products without cheating by using artificial crap or loads of dried fruit (i.e. sugar). But in terms of branding, I'd say the biggest challenge is being lazer sharp about who our product is for.
It's tough to avoid the temptation to want to sell to everyone. It's counterintuitive but important to focus on a specific niche, and one of our challenges has been figuring out where we really want to play, while still being authentic to who we are and what we stand for.”
What are some start-ups that you think are killing it right now?
“I haven't been keeping as close an eye on things as I used to but in tech the obvious ones that come to mind are Canva, Afterpay and Airtasker. And I really like what the guys at Unyoked (tiny houses), Koala (mattresses), Zova (fitness app) and Karst Stone Paper. In the health product space, ones to watch are Super Nice Kream and Mother SPF.”