Being told at the age of 17 that Carli was unemployable by the manager of a gym she worked at made Carli realise that she wasn’t cut out to work for anyone other than herself. In true entrepreneurial style, Carli recognised that it was probably better if she just went it alone – she knew she had a determination to succeed and was willing to sacrifice everything to make her dream a reality… plus she was never going to be happy working 9-5 in a ‘normal business environment’.
“I’m an extreme kind of character which you tend to get if you want to shake things up in business” says Carli, founder of Protein Haus although she has since resigned her directorship in February 2018.
“I don’t think any other business would have trusted me to lead a project (such as Protein Haus). I was always doing small things with different companies such a Gym Box or Third Space when it was Raebok and coming up with ideas for gym classes and then people would take the idea and whilst I would be paid for the idea, I was never really given the opportunity to create a platform for myself.” Carli knew that she wanted to do something other than run her own gym classes to showcase and share her own creativity in the health and fitness world so she decided that she wanted to follow her own passion and instinct rather than simply take someone else’s idea and regurgitate it in a slightly modified way as often happens with health and fitness – you only have to look at the number of bootcamps that have shot up recently to understand what Carli means!
Confident in her own ability to give the customer an experience that they would want to come back for and keen to put her creative streak to good use, it seemed a natural progression for Carli to set up a business that married good health with nutrition. When presented with an opportunity to develop a brand that could showcase both, Carli seized the opportunity with both hands and Protein Haus was born.
Carli admits that her determination to get the product to market led to what was, in hindsight, not necessarily the best partnership arrangement. She knew from the outset that the people didn’t necessarily share the same vision for the brand that she was so keen to promote, but they had been successful setting up other businesses so she thought it was the right thing to do at the time. However, that hindsight doesn’t mean that she regrets what happened for a moment – although no longer a director, she is still actively involved in Protein Haus and still manages their website and Instagram account. It was a steep learning curve for Carli over the four and a half years from founding the company to resigning as a director, during which time she learned everything from the food manufacturing process, designing the menus, training the staff, running the payroll. Carli thought that after that time, she would be responsible for the brand and nutrition and staff training. When it was clear that wasn’t how it was going to pan out, Carli took stock, assessed the situation and decided it was time to move on.
That in itself wasn’t an issue for Carli as she is a very determined, focused person, but it was more that the company wasn’t going in the direction she wanted it do. She remains grateful for the opportunity that going into business with the funding partners gave her but rather than waste her energy or become increasingly unhappy with the situation, she took the decision to part company.
“Life is too short for me to not to express 100% the journey I want to go on. I’m not a moaner, I’m more of an active person. If I feel I’m not happy with something, then I’ll just change it which is what I did.”
Having been to lots of talks on setting up businesses and chatting with other entrepreneurs, Carli realised that there will probably almost always be some form of conflict when setting up a business which is why her philosophy is:“get a good lawyer and make sure you’ve got a good arrangement in place. Try to work through (the conflict) but ultimately we get one life and it’s about living it and waking up every day making sure you’re doing the stuff you want to do”.
Very much taking the positives from the experience as entrepreneurs often do, Carli decided that it was now time to begin this next chapter in her life – running her business as she wants to.
Carli still very much believes in promoting good health through nutrition and fitness and is about to launch her own food range – Paleo Supply Co – and was undeterred when I mentioned that food is a very crowded sector where notoriously the stats are that 70-80% of new products launched in the grocery sector fail in the first year (Inez Blackburn, University of Toronto 2017). Carli’s passion for her concept is self-evident when she explains that she’s building a concept similar to that which she created to launch Protein Haus which is where she will mix the magic she brought to Protein Haus to Paleo as the USP is her creativity – the ability to make food fun, playful interesting and nutritious so that people want to eat it.
Carli also recognises now that Paleo is perhaps less about dieting for the sake of pure weight loss as she herself and her outlook on life has matured since founding Protein Haus. This new venture is more about the authentic and sustainable nature of the supply chain – ethical sourcing of ingredients, no plastic involved in the packaging etc – ‘a more adult version of Protein Haus but still playful’ and is how Carli describes Paleo with her being very much at the heart of it.
With the retail value of health and wellness market in the UK reported as having increased from over 22.6 billion euro in 2013 to over 26 billion euro in 2018, (statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/491348/health-and-wellness-united-kingdom-uk-market-value/) I asked Carli if the industry simply perpetuated the belief that in order to be happy, people should be thin and if products are coming onto the market claiming to be the next ‘wonder diet’, the super pill to give us all perfect body with no effort simply fuels people’s lack of happiness with their own body. Carli’s response was interesting in that it seemed to echo her earlier recognition of her own change in attitude as she matures. She has previously been reported as saying that diet had almost become a dirty word in the UK in that people were now almost ashamed to admit that they wanted to do nothing more than lose a few pounds.
Protein Haus had come in for some stick for being a diet shop and for using words that were diet/weight loss related and that in catering for this market, there was something unhealthy about what they were doing. This was clear from the social media response around the infamous “Thigh Gap” meal Protein Haus sold. At the time with no money for Press and PR, Carli acknowledges that she was testing the water to see what would happen – she was actually wanting to “take the p” out of diets as she told me. With her wild side and dry sense of humour, it was nothing more than trying to be have a bit of fun with the name. Whilst the label was provocative, it was more about the food which Carli has no regrets over and, in fact, is right in her defence of the product in that it was very healthy, balanced and if you were looking to achieve weight loss, it could help. Perhaps we are now so oversensitive that we have lost all sense of proportion and common sense?
In terms of what makes people happy, the more mature Carli recognises that people need to feel good about themselves – and if that is by losing a few pounds then great – her product can help – but that isn’t the primary focus of the company. It is more about wanting to get people to fall in love with what they are eating and that it should be fresh. There is clearly something in this change of mindset of a more holistic approach to health and wellbeing given Weight Watchers have announced their rebrand and new name of WW to ditch the weight element.
Interestingly, Carli also spoke about the way that people consume information and how use of technology is allowing companies to better interact and engage with their target audience to give them a more bespoke experience. In the past people would have simply gone to a bookshop and purchased the latest diet book and given it a go. Now, people, and particularly younger consumers, are much more willing to use forums, social media platforms to discuss what they are wanting from a diet and to find out what exactly they can do to make something work for their individual situation. By keeping Paleo quite niche, Carli is hoping to be able to retain having that individual interaction which was perhaps lost a little with the rapid growth of Protein House.
Camille Waxer, Chief Administrative Officer at the powerful Canary Wharf Group plc, has been instrumental in getting Carli to where she is today “She saw through the wildness and saw that I had a talent and had the determination to succeed even though she perhaps questioned the concept initially and I will be forever grateful to her.” The naivety (or is it arrogance?) of youth meant that in pitching her idea for Protein Haus, Carli would turn up to meetings with just a few sheets of A4 and expected people to be as excited and committed to the concept as she was. When pitching her idea to Canary Wharf, having been rejected and asked to go away and come back again when it she had something meaningful to present, Carli is thankful that Camille did show such faith – it could have been a very different outcome. She now advises all start-ups that there really is value in getting their idea and brand expression defined before pitching: “It is so important to get your brand story right and to communicate it in a professional way. Although it might seem an expense when you are starting out, it will ultimately be worth it as it will make getting people to go on your journey with you and buy into your idea easier when they don’t necessarily know anything about you”.