Know your numbers or you're in deep trouble: Shark Tank's Janine Allis on startup mistakes
29 May 2018, Written by Ben Hall
She's a former backpacker who once worked on David Bowie's yacht and if you went back in time to before 2000 and asked Janine Allis whether she'd one day be in charge of a multi-million dollar international business and the young Janine would have probably told you to lay off the alternative substances.
The Boost Juice founder and one of the "sharks" on Network Ten's Shark Tank Australia flitted between jobs and landed on rock legend Bowie's yacht before coming up with the idea that launched her entrepreneurial journey.
In the late 1990's after marrying and raising children, Allis was continually frustrated that she couldn't find a fast food that was healthy for her whole family. Then, on a trip to California, she discovered a juice/smoothie bar and liked the concept.
She was inspired, and the Boost Juice dream was born. From a single store in May 2000, today the company is now under a holding company called Retail Zoo, of which Allis is a director. Retail Zoo also owns the Salsas Fresh Mex Grill chain and CIBO Espresso with more than 7,000 employees in over 540 stores that has turned over from inception just on $2 billion dollars. Boost Juice bars are also in more than 15 countries outside of Australia.
Allis admits that she never envisaged heading up a multi-million-dollar company. Her career "before Boost" was certainly diverse.
She started out at 17, working for the McCann Erickson Advertising Agency as a media assistant. After that she tried her luck at modelling and was the assistant manager of a gym.
But the call for adventure saw Allis head off to the USA as part of the "Camp America" experience. She eventually ended up in Europe where she landed a job as head stewardess on David Bowie's yacht. It was a time she describes as "a blast".
Business News Australia spoke with Janine Allis ahead of Tuesday night's episode of Shark Tank (8.30pm) and asked her what it takes to endure as a entrepreneur and whether she'd tried and fail at any other businesses.
So what do you look for in a start up? Whether you're on the show or just in business generally? Are you looking for the person, the idea? Are you looking for some form of revenue? What are the key things for you?
Look, at the end of the day, the idea is one thing. Every man and their dog has an idea. It's actually the execution that has value. So what I'm looking for is the person that has the capabilities of actually executing on that idea. And because even a bad idea you can sometimes get off the ground if it's well executed.
So really, the reality is also a business. Is it always gonna be ups and downs and ins and outs? And you can guarantee things are gonna go wrong. So I'm looking for someone that has the fortitude to be able to solve the problem. So for me, when I ask questions, I'm looking for people that are solution-based, take ownership, are accountable for the problems and don't need to be rescued.
So for example, if someone says in their pitch, "Oh look, sales are down. Oh well, it wasn't my fault, it was everything else. Every other reason. We are imperfect but it wasn't my fault." I immediately go, "Goodbye. Forget it. Not interested." Because as soon as you have that mentality, you can't fix anything. So that's pretty much what I look for in my entrepreneurs.
What are the key attributes you're looking for? Is there anything else that you want to see in somebody apart from those things you just mentioned then?
If you don't have a grasp on your numbers, then you're going to be in trouble too. You don't need to be an accountant, but seriously, accounting, the numbers that you need to understand your business are basic. It's not algebra, it's not anything complicated. It's simply that you need to be able to know what percentages are, you need to multiply, you need to add, you need to minus. That's it.
So anyone that says they don't know their numbers or finds it difficult, then they need to understand that it's actually really simple. And so really, the attributes is actually giving the interest into the numbers. 'Cause what then tends to happen, is people throw this word 'entrepreneur' around and it's overused.
Fellow Shark Tank 'shark' Glen Richards says what he really wants to see is revenue before he commits to anything. Are you the same? Do you need to see money coming in the door or are you happy to go with someone if they're the right person, right idea and they've got the right attitude?
No, you're looking for proof of purchase. Really the only time when you truly know people want it is when they open their wallet. So really that is the proof of purchase, it is actually sales. And also the proof of the ability that the person can get it to market. Startups fail. Four out of five of them fail. So you want to make sure that they're sort of over that initial hump of failure to be able to create a great business.
The Boost Juice story is well known. Did you have any businesses or any ideas before that happened? And what were they? How do they go?
Yes, and badly. So what did we do? Well firstly, because I was a publicist and my husband was in radio. He was senior executive at Austereo. The first business we tried was touring comedians actually. And that didn't sort of go so well. Then the second one was publishing. So we were touring authors. So again, the publishing game is really tough. And then we did our own book for couples which is basically giving ideas like instead of giving flowers, you give a coupon saying that you'll take her out to dinner or make her a meal or have immediate sex with her if she wants it that moment or whatever that coupon might say. And look, none of them lost us our house, but none of them certainly made us any money.
Also what you're looking for when you're starting up businesses, is what gets your juices going? And sorry the pun. But what makes you get really excited? And it was really the Boost journey and the Boost business that really got me excited and really got me and the thing is though, find out what you love and you never work in a day in your life. That's so true.
Boost Juice is now under Retail Zoo with 7,000 employees. Is there an issue of going on such a big scale like that? What are the main issues that you deal with and what's the most difficult thing with a business of that size?
I would say the most difficult thing of a business of size is keeping the business small. And that's what you have to do. If you don't see it as a big lump, then it's very hard to make any difference. So it's actually being able to break the business down in small chunks to actually make a difference. So for example, if you create a competition in regions.
So okay, Queensland, "how are you doing"? And then you break it down into components. So how are things doing in North Queensland, South Queensland. You keep breaking it down into smaller and smaller chunks, then what you find is you can make a difference. So you break it down to the regions, then you break it down to the store. Then every single element of those, you need to make sure you're doing everything really, really well. So it's really making sure that we understand that you can't also be this arrogant business that says, "This is the decision for the whole business." You go, "Okay, so how does it effect this particular region or store?" Instead of just sort of getting a brush and then painting it all white.
When you were starting off, did you have mentors? And who were they and what sort of key advice did they give to you when you were on your startup journey?
When I started, my business knowledge was minus zero. And so I started from the absolute base. So it was for me ... and we didn't have internet back then and I know that sounds very antiquated, but it was only 18 years ago. It wasn't easy to Google things or there wasn't the information that's available easily right now. So for me actually, I was a young mum with three little kids at home. So I barely got out. I didn't actually do any networking. I just literally, head down, bum up and worked. So a few years after that Geoff Harris came in as an investor in the business who was the co-founder of Flight Centre.
And he was great. He was a wealth of knowledge, and just one of the good guys. So he was very, very knowledgeable. Geoff had been part of this very successful startup so this guy knew what it takes on all levels. I used to bring people for coffee. So people like Lesley Gillespie from Baker's Delight. I used to catch up with her once a month. I would buy her a coffee and basically try and suck her dry with information. They were 25 years ahead of us, so she had, she was a wealth of knowledge and experience.
It was not really any structured mentoring. It was more, "Hey, I've got an issue, can I grab a coffee"? And also, you don't know what you don't know. So for me, it was like, every time something would ... the first time something goes wrong with anything, the first litigation, the first employee issue, the first anything, you think that your world starts collapsing. And to be able to pick up the phone and say "I can't believe this is happening." And people like Geoff would turn around and look straight at me and say, "Janine, at the end of the day you've got a population of people within your business. And in that population, you have a percentage that will leave, a percentage that are staying and everyone in between. You you're just gonna get better people". So you go, "Oh, okay. So it's not me that's picked the wrong person. It's life." So sometimes it helps with the stress level when you have all of those first, they do sort of kick you pretty hard.
You realise that it's okay. It's normal. What also really helped me is reading biographies of business people and realise, "Oh, okay. So they nearly went broke. Oh, okay. So Steve Jobs got sacked. Oh okay. Elon Musk nearly lost everything on that."
It's normal to have ups and downs. It's normal to go on the roller coaster ride of business, which is those huge highs and those incredibly scary lows.
Business News Australia
Author: Ben Hall