The 3pm slump is all too real, particularly for stressed-out office workers.

One afternoon in 2015, Jess Thomas switched her go-to sweet treat for a homemade protein ball – and she noticed a huge difference in both her energy levels and mental clarity.

Next week, she brought a batch into the office and her co-workers gobbled them up. When she started selling them at her local St Kilda café, they sold out within the hour.

Realising she’d stumbled onto a promising new business, Jess quit her corporate marketing job, sold her old Toyota Corolla, and used the money to kickstart her protein ball company from her home kitchen.

Four years on and Health Lab has exploded into a multi-million-dollar business, selling its range of balls to more than 10,000 global retailers. The female-centric brand prides itself on delivering uncomplicated wellness – minus the erroneous claims, confusion, stress and guilt.

Now a mum of two, Jess tells The CEO Magazine how she created the business, life and career she’d always dreamed of.

Jess Thomas

Q. What was the inspiration behind Health Lab?

Health Lab was born because I simply couldn’t easily find healthy and delicious snacks on the market. We were the first protein ball in the food service scene in Melbourne and over the period of a few months we went from hand-rolling 100 balls a week to over 2,000 a day – until we physically couldn’t keep up with demand. It was definitely a grassroots business start.

Q. The healthy eating movement is massive – how do you make Health Lab’s products stand out in such a saturated market?

Our business is founded on innovative and differentiation. We were the first natural protein ball to launch in Australia, and then also the first ‘ball’ brand globally to introduce the next wave of functional ingredients such as collagen, hemp and probiotics. Because we are not simply ‘more of the same’, we have managed to really thrive in a saturated market and grow to 10,000 global retailers in a three-year period.

We are offering retailers accelerated category growth without cannibalising their current offerings and also really engaging with the booming wellness lifestyle consumer who is alienated by a lot of the current protein, diet or functional snack options. But most importantly, we have really differentiated in the market with our female-centric brand. Competitors will always try to follow your physical products, but our biggest asset is a unique and strong brand with an engaged community.

Q. What was the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

I believe, the greatest challenge you face when growing a business is overcoming your own self-doubt, fear and limiting beliefs of what you are capable of. As a rapidly growing business, you face challenges on a daily basis – and these challenges only get bigger as the business grows.

You need to really develop a growth- and solutions-oriented mindset, plus a super strong self-belief that you are capable of big things and overcoming any challenges the universe throws your way. I’ve been lucky enough to have an amazing network of people around me – personally and professionally. Surrounding yourself with good people who have great attitudes is key.

Health Lab protein balls

Q. What advice do you have for your twenty-something self?

The only thing that will ever hold you back, is yourself.

Q. What advice do you have for women who want to launch their own business but aren’t sure where to start?

My advice would be to simply take action, as action breeds confidence and momentum. It will never be the right time to start a business and you will never have all the answers. But unfortunately, so many women are paralysed by subconscious fears especially around success, leadership and their own capabilities.

Q. What does work-life balance look like to you as a new mum and a business owner?

Work-life balance is something I’ve had to work hard to define for myself – as I believe it’s unique for every woman. For me, work-life balance looks different every single day, but is centred on the principals of presence and quality time. I believe to have balance as a working mum, you need to be able to delegate and outsource what’s possible in your circumstances.

It’s also essential that there is some element of self-care. Stats are showing that Australian working mums are burning out and in my personal opinion, being a mum is tougher than any CEO position. So, it’s essential that we take care of ourselves to be able to bring our best selves to our family, businesses and careers.

Q. What’s next for Health Lab?

We have some really exciting retailer rollouts including our full range into the Health Food category of Woolworths, CVS pharmacies in the USA and also a collaboration with a McSecret retailer.

Q. How would you describe yourself in three words?

Optimistic. Ambitious. Ballsy!

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