In less than 15 years, Bulk Nutrients has grown from a fledgling one-man business to a company worth $27 million that employs more than 60 people and processes around 75 tonnes of stock a month. Plus they’ve just won a Canstar Blue award for customer satisfaction. Like all good success stories, it started out as a simple idea. Bulk Nutrients founder and managing director Ben Crowley shares his story and some words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs.
When I was about 25, I was working in Japan and training very regularly. Because protein supps were hard to come in Japan, I started buying protein powder direct from America, and I realised it was much cheaper in America than in Australia. So I came up with the idea to manufacture my own product.
In about 2007, I started out selling a raw protein powder called Bioflex. I made a semi-commercial mixing machine with a friend and started packaging up products at my house and approached a few stores about selling it. But I realised there was an emerging market with online supps, and it was clear that if you had a brand which you sold through normal supply chains, it was not possible to offer really competitive prices . So I started Bulk Nutrients. The idea was we would sell directly to customers so we didn’t have to worry about a conflict with retailers. That was the best decision I ever made.
For about three years I ran the business part-time by myself, but by 2009 we had about four employees, and moved to a place with about 150sqm of room. In 2011 we had about eight staff, and now we’re in 4000sqm with 60 staff.
Our product range has grown massively. We started out with flavoured protein, and now we have over 150 products. We’ve moved with the market, too. Once it was all dairy protein, now it’s more plant-based proteins.
“The idea was we would sell directly to customers so we didn’t have to worry about a conflict with retailers. That was the best decision I ever made.”
One of our strengths is our research and development – we develop 10-15 new products a year, and improving existing ones. We also look at emerging research; we look at new ingredients that may be beneficial for a certain purpose, like recovery, and we’ll formulate products around that. We look at what other people in the market are doing, what customers are demanding and what new ingredients and methods might be available.
Success takes a lot of hard work. But for me it was also getting started at the right time. There was a real emerging market; people wanted more cost-effective, bullshit-free supps. That happened as the online space really started ramping up.
Starting out from scratch is daunting. You need to be at the stage in your life when you can do it. I was a young, single guy; I may have even moved back in with my parents for a while.
You need to ensure the situation in your life is consistent with what you want to do. If you’ve just had a new baby, that’s not a good time to do it. You need to have a clear path.
Also, I didn’t have much to lose. I never had any money; I hadn’t acquired any assets, so I didn’t have anything to lose. What was the worst that could happen?
You should also expect that there is going to be some short-term strain, and budget for that. But if you can be passionate about growing your business and pushing your vision without necessarily getting any monetary rewards – they may come, but it’s very unlikely that they’ll come in the first year or two – you can succeed. ■