Everything changed for me in 2010. My dad had always been overweight, but that year he got some concerning blood test results back: his cholesterol was incredibly high and his weight was starting to become a serious problem.
I was studying business management at the time, but more than anything else, that was the event that started me on the path to where I am today.
I helped him wave goodbye to the burgers and say hello to whole grains, fresh vegetables and home cooking. I worked with him on his diet plan as he lost a massive 85 pounds and made a huge positive change in his life. He was healthier, happier, and attracting quite a lot of attention from colleagues and friends. “How did he do it?” they asked, and Fresh n’ Lean was born.
At the time I was only 18, working out of a one-bedroom California apartment and selling meals largely to friends and family who lived close-by enough for me to deliver myself. It wasn’t exactly glamorous, but that’s where I started to learn the business lessons that led me to where I am today.
I will always remember those months I spent working out of my apartment and hand-writing labels to add a personal touch to the bulk-bought Tupperware containers that the first Fresh n’ Lean meals were delivered in. You always need to remember where you come from and who you are. The world of business will punish you for trying to get bigger than your boots. Remembering where you came from keeps you grounded and helps you empathize with your employees down the line.
If you approach your business with the attitude that you’re never too good for anything, you’ll have a much better idea of how things work “on the ground.” This helps you connect with your employees in a way many CEOs can’t.
People Will Want to See You Fail – Ignore Them
After a few months working out of my apartment I realized it was time to scale up, and we started working out of a commercial kitchen. During this first expansion, I was setting my sights high and I had more than my fair share of detractors. As a young woman in business, I had to deal with being dismissed and ignored more than a man in my position would. The only way to win is to prove them wrong.
We continued moving forwards, going from that tiny one-bedroom apartment to our current 55,000 square foot facility, but at age 27 I still encounter some of those same attitudes from time to time. But now I can point to all I’ve achieved – without a single cent of outside capital – to challenge those preconceptions, and hopefully inspire others too.
Focus on Solutions; Not Problems
Every business has hurdles to overcome, but the deciding factor is how you approach the issues you encounter. If you focus on problems and beat yourself up about mistakes, the business world will crush you. To succeed, you need to focus on solutions and grow from the challenges you experience on the way. Be resilient and always keep learning.
Never Ever Give Up
My dad’s health issues had settled down by 2014, but that year I was diagnosed with lupus, just as Fresh n’ Lean was going through some particularly challenging times. I was very ill and in a lot of pain, but I knew that my future success meant finding the strength within myself to keep pushing forward. We’re all stronger than you’d imagine.
Despite all I was going through, I got up at 4am every day to drive to the office and keep things moving upwards. I never let my condition beat me or hold me back. If you can cultivate that type of attitude, you’ll go a long way in whatever you want to do.
Build Relationships with Your Employees… and Listen to Them
We got through our growing pains, but my experience of the early days of Fresh n’ Lean really taught me how to connect with my employees (I’ve done most of their jobs at some point, after all!), even now as we have over 100 people working for us. I aim to build real relationships, and I go out of my way to know everybody’s name and get to know them as much as I can. I listen to their concerns and I respect their opinions. When you treat people well, they want to work hard for you.
Look After Yourself to Look After Your Business
One final lesson that it took me a while to learn is that if you want to look after your business, you’ve got to look after yourself. You might feel like the martyr when you’re working 20-hour days, subsisting on grab-and-go snacks and sleeping at the office, but the truth is that you’ll never thrive long-term if you don’t eat well and let yourself rest.
Our meals help me get through the day on fresh, nutritional food, and while I’m still working hard, I make the extra effort to take care of myself and come into the office each day well-rested and ready to tackle whatever the world throws at me.
To keep helping people like my dad, I have to be healthy, sharp and on top of my game.