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Today you’re going to hear the story of Alicia, Daniel and CompEAT Nutrition. The concept of CompEAT first planted itself in Daniel & Alicia’s mind in 2016. Since then they’ve bootstrapped it themselves for quite some time and invested a lot of themselves into bringing this amazing company into existence, they eventually went through the ICON Slingshot program at the Newcastle University’s Integrated Innovation Network and all while raising a young family.

Daniel & Alicia are trying to fix a real problem and it’s a two-sided problem. CompEAT Nutrition are well on their way to solving the problem with their first product to market. 

300 active users and they’ve been very successful in the last 12 months in proving their assumptions around scalability. We’ll cover all of that and more, but for now, let’s go back to day one where this story begins…


Transcript

Alicia:

I’m a completely different person that I was three years ago. I’m pretty much living with my mentor, like, and I… I know that sounds really ridiculous, but in terms of the business side of things, my confidence, and my ability to push through my comfort zone has been all due to him and I’ll try not to cry because I don’t know how many points in time I would have had where I’d be on the bed crying just wondering what we’re doing.

Adam:

Hi, I’m Adam Spencer and welcome to day one, the show that goes back to the very beginning, to share the untold stories of incredible regional startups and the organisations that support them. 

Today you’re going to hear the story of Alicia…

Alicia:

Hi, my name’s Alicia, advanced sports dietitian and co-founder of CompEAT Nutrition.

Adam:

Daniel…

Daniel:

And my name’s Dan, not an advanced sports dietician, but also co-founder of CompEAT Nutrition.

Adam:

and CompEAT Nutrition.

Alicia:

So in terms of CompEAT Nutrition, we are all about performance. So it’s about bringing performance into the lives of the everyday active individual all the way up to the elite athlete. And that performance focus can be performance in sport or performance in life.

Adam:

The concept of CompEAT first planted itself in Daniel & Alicia’s mind in 2016. Since then they’ve bootstrapped it themselves for quite some time and invested a lot of themselves into bringing this amazing company into existence, they eventually went through the ICON Slingshot program at the Newcastle University’s Integrated Innovation Network and all while raising a young family.

More

Daniel:

Yeah, this is Reuben. Reuben, do you want to say, “Hello.”

Alicia:

Into the microphone.

Reuben:

Hello.

Adam:

Reuben, do you know what Mommy and Daddy do?

Reuben:

Fix something? 

Daniel:

We’re trying to fix something.

Adam:

Daniel & Alicia are trying to fix a real problem and it’s a two-sided problem.

Alicia:

So there’s the industry problem in terms of the dietitian’s side and then there’s the client user problem as well. 

Adam:

And CompEAT Nutrition are well on their way to solving the problem with their first product to market. 

Daniel:

We were on target, a turnover nearly 200k in revenue. And we currently have 300 active users. 

Adam:

300 active users and they’ve been very successful in the last 12 months in proving their assumptions around scalability. We’ll cover all of that and more, but for now, let’s go back to day one where this story begins…

Alicia:

All right. In terms of our story, I guess the starting point would be 2015 when I was at the AIS in Canberra as a sports dietician and being pregnant with our first bub, it was a little bit too far away from family support, really. 

And so the concept of CompEAT started in probably early 2016 just through a need of me needing to hopefully be able to still advance my career no matter where I was geographically based. But also seeing the funding model of sport in Australia changing to a much more de-centralised model and also seeing athletes being anywhere in the world at any time.

Adam:

Alicia was working at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra as a dietitian… 

Alicia:

I did AIS as what they call a fellowship, so it’s two years on a low pay grade to basically just launch your career and knowledge as a sports dietician. Now, one of the big issues is… and they’ve known this for a really long time is that once that two years is up, there’s no opportunity to really stay unless you’re filling a maternity field. No one leaves the AIS once you’ve got a job at the AIS. 

Adam:

But Alicia was going to leave the AIS to start a new family closer to family support up north and Daniel was a process engineer who had an excellent career underway as head of infrastructure asset management in the utility sector working for Icon Water in Canberra. But as we just heard, Alicia was pregnant with their first child and really wanted to be closer to family.

Alicia: 

Which meant that we made the decision to move north, but moving north also meant that I lost my career in the sense that I also lost all the hub of athletes that I had access to at the AIS because it was very centralised at that point.

Daniel:

We moved to Forster, I took a role as the head of all engineering and asset management for the utility just north of Newcastle, which is now Midcoast.

Adam:

But just because they moved north to be closer to family to start their own family, Alicia and Daniel didn’t want that to end Alicia’s career. 

Alicia:

Dan was very firm in not allowing that to happen. He’s like, “No, you don’t get to just stop your career just because we move for my job or just because we had kids.” There has to be a better way. And the financial model of what a dietician did in the private practice setting is very broken.

Daniel:

I sat down and sort of asked Alicia, “Just run through how you would work in your own private practice.” I would say you can see this many clients, and then you would charge them this much. 

And I was like, how is that feasible? How are people making money out of that today? There just has to be another way to solve this problem.

Adam:

There has to be a better way to solve this problem. So what is the exact problem that they were facing?

Alicia:

The earning capacity of a dietician is quite low compared to how much training and professional development we have to put into being a registered dietician.

Alicia: 

So in the appointment based system, we’re very time sensitive. So we can only make money when we’re seeing a client. So our hours a very long in terms of trying to make whatever we can out of it.

Daniel:

And I think if you talk about the team sport environment, the dietitian is there, but the common thing is… we are suppliers or what is the dietitian? I don’t actually know. I think they’re here for the kit kind of thing.

Alicia:

That is actually something that the athletes have said to us.

Daniel:

But then the other one is that they’re trying to access the athlete in that training environment when they’re training… they might be recovering. So you’re trying to pick them up, they don’t want to talk to you then. 

Alicia:

And also, we’re very invisible. We’ve got an image problem, we’re not innovative or disruptive in that space where what you would probably call a pink collar. So lots and lots of females, and you’d pause very often to have kids and that’s not very friendly in the private practice market because people are coming to see you. And when you take a pause, so does your business. 

Adam:

The earning capacity is quite low, it’s a completely face to face appointment-based model, in a world that was becoming more and more decentralised having athletes all over the world. So that’s the dietician’s side of the problem, Here’s an example of the other side of the problem, the athlete’s side, with one of CompEAT’s partners, the Australian women’s national soccer team, the Matildas.

Daniel:

So with the Matilda’s, with being able to support any athlete anywhere in the world through a centralised model, you can’t support them, you can’t see them, because athlete’s just simply aren’t there.

So by having a platform where we’re integrated into our life, we are now their integrated support partner. So say from… an example is The Matilda’s, is that they might come together for a camp twice a year, outside of the world cup, but what is the FFA, what access do they have for ensuring that their investment is being looked after when they’re not in that environment.

Adam:

So, what’s the solution? An app? There’s an app for everything right? Makes sense that would be the first solution they thought of.

Alicia:

I don’t think we ever had the let’s build an app moment. 

Daniel:

I think the mantra is that don’t build a product and then find a way to use it. Find a way of solving a problem or a solution or a process, and then automate it through technology.

Unless you know what you want it to solve, it’s very hard to build a piece of technology that’s going to work for you and for your business. So what we do is we went through and broke down each of the steps in that servicing model and said, “Okay, well, if we’re going to digitise this process, what can we do? How can we automate this?”

So we went through the whole thing. I made a portal algorithms and stuff together and automated the entire process. I was like, “Cool. We can basically automate this entire solution.”

But then what we realised is by just taking the dietician out, it created a lot more restrictions, so building something that allowed them to be more efficient in the way that they worked. But while leaving the professional there, what we’re doing is we’re creating a product which was much more consumer-focused, it was accessible when and where they needed it, but also, is agile and supportive enough to give them the immediacy of information and access to support when it was required.

So to have that support there, which is that interpersonal relationship, that’s so much more value than just… another tracking app or something like that.

Adam:

We’re about ready to talk about the actual launch of the business, but first. Athlete’s are all over the world, travelling, training, competing, so we need a solution to serve them and add value to their lives no matter where they are, technology is the best option, but it would have been a mistake to go too far down that path and completely remove the human element from that equation. So compEAT have integrated the dietician into that process allowing a professional dietician to be there when the athlete needs them. We have the what, but why is this the right solution? 

Alicia:

Yeah, it’s no longer just about the what to do. It’s about the why and the how.

Daniel:

I went from engineering into management and then… the last sort of six years, spent a lot of time reflecting on a lot of human behavior. I got to the realisation that we only ever do anything we ever do in life because of other humans.

Now, when you talk about base human theory it’s that Maslow and his deterministic needs theory. So it’s all about, sort of how that hierarchy works, and then gaining control and then having that ability to self-actualise and take ownership.

So when we’re looking at why we service, it’s not just about say, providing a plan. It’s around helping them to make cognitive decisions through that support. So the dietician will be there and they’re starting to build the behaviors through interacting and working with us through a means which they have to actually make a choice while the supports there.

Alicia:

So an example is some clients that we’ve got who have binge-eating disorder, so you can kind of predict the days or the weeks that are going to be harder for them and previously in that consult model, they may have been on their own in those really tough days, or red days as we call them. You know, tough weeks.

Alicia:

And having to think about and write down questions for the next appointment, but in this role, where we’re actually integrated into their lives, we’re actually there when they’re having hard times and able to coach them through decisions and opportunities. You know, even reflect back on what may have happened.

So changing behavior takes a lot of time. We may know what we need to do, whether it be exercise, you know, food for health and most of us can tell us what they should be eating. The question is why not and what can we do to allow that change to happen in a way that’s actually achievable for you and sustainable for you and fits you and your lifestyle.

Adam:

Before CompEAT was even an idea, both Daniel and Alicia were embedded within the athletic community and having those relationships, those friendships, really helped not only kick start CompEAT in terms of word of mouth referrals, but long before there was even a product it really helped Daniel and Alicia understand what the problem was that they were trying to solve, and I think that coal-face understanding of the community, because they were a part of it, and the problems they were facing was really really imperative. 

Daniel:

I both played hockey and did triathlon. I was fortunate enough to represent Australia country in hockey. And then played professionally in Europe for a little while before retiring at the end of 2011 and then took up triathlon fairly competitively, which gave us a lot of insight. We obviously had a good understanding of team based sports and Alicia’s experience, with AIS… but we also had experience with performing at that late level. but also in the individual sports as well and understanding the dynamics of those individual based sports as well.

Understanding the market that we’re looking at is obviously also a big one.

Alicia:

And also opening those connection, as well. Like between the connections we had through the individual base and the cycling, running, triathlon…

Yeah, so it was more the connections as well that was driven from that, that really helped us build the start of CompEAT and, at least, start that word of mouth that allowed for that early adopter setting to come through.

Oh yeah, very much a soft launch in the way of just utilising the people we already knew and it seemingly just allowed those early adopters to come through with our first little rendition of what CompEAT could be and then inform what our next evolutions should be. And so we were really doing things quite slowly in the sense that… But it also allowed us to create a product that we knew people wanted.

Adam:

Because of those connections and insight from being a part of the community they were serving, CompEAT were able to build a great solution. Network really is everything. With no marketing, CompEAT had a national Cyclist sign up on their brand new website.

Alicia:

So it was a referral from someone they knew. So yeah, in health, it’s very word of mouth.

We had a national cyclist come through, check out without any nurturing or contact beforehand. So very early days, we had a sale, and we’re like…

Do you know who this is? No, I don’t… hang on, look at his, look at his email signature. And sure enough, it was a national cyclist. So that was the moment of really realising we’re being seen, we may have a product here that people want, and it was just that moment that really just increased my confidence definitely.

Adam:

So CyclistX signs up on the CompEAT website and downloads the app, what happens next?

Alicia:

So once someone registers, we start to get to know them. So we go through… and that’s on their side… they’ll be filling in different preferences, goals, food diaries, to get to know their eating habits and preferences with eating. It’s really about not judging that, but rather, just getting insight into how they’re currently living, what’s valuable to them, and what they’re struggling with.

And once that’s done, the dietician is ready to roll in terms of being in contact, starting that journey, really prioritising the goals of that athlete or active individual moving forward and starting to coach them through that change so that they will be able to access, depending on what membership they’ve chosen, they’ll be able to access their menu, recipes integrated with that, weekly shopping lists, and then additional to that, videos and different opportunities for resources. Yeah.

Daniel:

Other resources, as well.

Adam:

How fast does that initial onboarding phase take?

Alicia:

Very quick actually.

Daniel:

So I think what you would normally do in your experience with that consult, is that we… what we do is we’ve taken the dietician out of that, and just allowed people to do it at a time that’s convenient for them. So we just automate that and the customer comes and they pay and they do all of that front up work that you would normally do in a first consult.

So that when your interaction with the dietician eventuates, the dietician has all this information and that interaction is much more valuable, rather than saying, “I’m going to collect all this information, then come back and see me and I’ll give you something.” It’s, “Hey, we’ll collect all this information and then no one will forget it.”

Alicia:

And also, as the dietician can look at all that data and information about a client, they can then probe really directly on some areas of focus so you’re not spending the first session… this is not appointment based, by the way, but you know, usually that first session is all about getting to know them.

Daniel:

That first interaction.

Alicia:

Yeah. Whereas now, it’s very much more direct, like around these are your actionables and these are things that are going to really provide a positive whether that be a performance focus or a behavior change, empowerment focus… or be both.

Adam:

It isn’t just a stock standard cookie cutter approach either.

Alicia:

It changes all the time. There’s always a dietician.

Daniel:

This is where it comes back where we realise that you can’t take the dietician out of it because everyone’s different, everything’s different. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow and you need the agility in service.

Adam:

The dietician, the human element, is a big part of what makes this approach so powerful. The dietician is there at your fingertips, you don’t have to go to a physical location at all to meet your dietician face to face.

Alicia:

So we’re contacting through the platform and that for the majority of our clients has been absolute perfection.

Daniel:

People don’t want it.

Alicia:

It’s been really, really cool. And people don’t necessarily want phone calls anymore.

Daniel:

We’ve found the relationship between the practitioner and the client is four or five times stronger than it would have been otherwise. Because what you’re doing is you’re breaking down the barriers to communication. You’re sitting on the lounge at night, you’re sort of having things going through your head… well, now, I’ve got that opportunity just to ask that question or to send that bit of information forward.

And so then obviously that relationship just grows and grows and gets a lot stronger, as opposed to… I have to sit here across the table from a professional who I feel is already going to judge me for being here. And so I’m going to already have all these walls up before we even start the conversation. Well we just eliminated all of those.

Alicia:

With athletes who are on the road all the time, they’re often working full-time plus training two to three times a day has improved, because they’re talking to you when it’s good for them.

And that means a whole lot in terms of their anxiety levels, their appreciation for our role, as well. Even just a message yesterday was like, “I just really appreciate your time and knowing that you’re there.” And it’s that ability to have someone that is keeping you accountable in a really safe place that you can turn to anytime.

Adam:

The CompEAT team, Alicia and Danirl, have been going for a little over a year by this stage, they have a product, they have customers, it was time to take the next step…

Alicia:

Yeah, so that goes back to being accepted into the Slingshot Accelerator program. The ICON, yes. So that was late 2017 pitch from when I was 37 weeks pregnant to the start of the program when I had a two week old, that was good times.

Daniel:

Yeah, so we were right in the thick of it. I was still working full-time at that point. We didn’t know what a start-up was, so literally, two days before we were asked to put in a deck about three days before the initial selection pitch.

The… we just thought we were solving a problem. Like, “Oh, let’s just invest some money.” I mean, we just invested a bit of our own money to try and solve this problem. And then, “Oh, you guys are a start-up?” Oh, well what’s a start-up?

Alicia:

And what’s an accelerator program?

Daniel:

What’s this… but yeah, obviously we had a connection with the i2N then, 

Adam:

Alicia and Daniel, as you just heard, were pretty new to the Startup world and they wanted to learn quickly, connecting with people and building new relationships to learn as quickly as possible really helped. There wasn’t a better place to do that than at the i2n, Newcastle University’s Integrated Innovation Network where the Slingshot Accelerator program ran.

Daniel:

I mean, when I said about networking connections, a lot of people downplay the value of that. It’s all about relationships, everything is all about relationships. I mean, that’s just the way Australians do business. Around the world, relationships are a bit different and business transactions can be different, but definitely in Australia having strong relationships, and even when you’re talking to investors or anyone, there has to be some sort of trust, and that takes time.

But you can’t build relationships without networks and connections, but for us the real value has been that network of people that the i2N has brought together and having the support of that.

Alicia:

Well yeah, even through the network, that’s how we found our dev team for the next phase of development really. 

Adam:

CompEAT were accepted into the Slingshot Accelerator in 2017 and that gave the team a boost and set them onto the trajectory that we heard about at the start of the story, with their 300 customers and 200k in revenue.

Alicia:

They gave us purpose and confidence, I think. Like, we were in a really fussy point, right? We had a newborn. Dan was full-time. So in terms of time capacity to spend on CompEAT, we were very low on both energy personally, but also financially, we were really just focused on surviving that point in tie.

Alicia:

So to be doing a really direct course and program in that point of time and being mentored through and given such beautiful direction and purpose meant that we were able to get it done really. We got the GSD award of the program because we were confident in our decisions and had the backing of our supporters.

Daniel:

I think another thing in terms of if you pinpoint one specific or one key difference is that I don’t think we would have… the major failing would have been scalability. We wouldn’t have thought about scale. We would have still been trying to solve that problem and been probably frustrated about knowing we needed to… I mean, scale was probably… I mean, the way it’s talked about in the start-up system. It just involves building business in scale, business is that you don’t… if we hadn’t have been in that environment, we definitely would not have considered that.

So I think if there was one thing it’s that thinking bigger and how to make it bigger. And obviously, there’s a lot of stuff that comes along with that.

Alicia:

Yeah, and every week they really pushed us to aim higher than ever before and even what we thought was possible.

Adam:

CompEAT are currently working with and developing partnerships with a lot of organisations now in order to make a bigger impact from Anytime Fitness, F45 training to the Professional Footballers Australia, the PFA and the Football Federation Australia, the FFA. 

Daniel:

So we had someone who was a senior footballer who knew what we were trying to achieve, knew that there was a problem in that space. And said, “You guys should talk.” And that’s where it sort of started.

So the FFA contract didn’t happen with the FFA to start with, it happened with the Player’s Association, so Professional Footballers Australia.

So we came in and we were talking to Beau… to the head of player development, and we were sort of sharing a bit about how we were evolving and I think our first conversations we were just sort of talking about the idea and the first step of the platform. And then, it’s evolved now to the point where we have access to all this knowledge and resources.

Alicia:

But it was also, like it’s probably important to note, it didn’t happen straight away. Like, the first few meetings it was really about knowing what they wanted as Dan said, but also knowing that we weren’t ready either. And taking the time to go, “Okay, I can see the gap in the market here. I can see what you need is a big association. Let us… take the time to solve this problem and we’ll come back to you.”

Alicia:

And so yeah, it was a long time. It was like… 18 months?

Daniel:

Yeah, 14, 18 months. So we were talking… we were talking with the PFA before… around about the same time that we got accepted into Slingshot which was at the end of 2017.

Adam:

So what’s the next phase in this endurance marathon for Alicia and Daniel, on this journey of building CompEAT Nutrition?

Daniel:

The current phase is to just validate all of our assumptions and hope, make sure that what we’re doing as a business model is going to work.

And then, obviously use that as a means to then raising capital to build out on a global scale platform. So we haven’t been trying to grow. 

Alicia:

It’s very controlled growth.

Daniel:

It’s been very controlled and very strategic about the way we’ve gone about building the business. Just to ensure, okay, we’re assuming these things, let’s make sure that they’re correct.

Because we want to validate before we invest in millions of dollars of technology.

Adam:

Alicia and Daniel are very passionate about the problem they are solving. 

Daniel:

I say this often as well, take your time. In some areas, yeah sure, you’ve got to sort of keep going. But if you’re otherwise continuing to make progress, don’t let the end goal get in the way of progress. They talk about fail fast and I don’t like the word fail. So, learn fast.

So try something, if it works, great. But then, how do you improve it? If it doesn’t, why didn’t it work and then how do you improve it? And what you’ll find is the market will tell you the direction you need to go and I think that that’s very true.

Even with small numbers of customers, it will allow you then to point your product into the direction that the market wants to stay. And we’ve been very lucky, This definitely isn’t overnight… I think I mentioned to someone yesterday, you’re here today. Would you have seen yourself here three years ago?

I said, “I would not even have dreamt that the product would look like this or our solution would look like this two years ago.” We wouldn’t have been able to see it. So sort of, don’t let the restrictions of today let progress of tomorrow get in your way.

Adam:

Thank you for listening to the story of CompEAT Nutrition with Daniel & Alicia Edge. I hope you enjoyed it. Everything that was mentioned in the episode today is on the show notes page on welcometodayone.com.

Next time on welcome to day one, The Startup Xpress. What is the Startup Xpress? Meet Steve Wait, the CEO of the Business Centre.

Steve Wait:

G’day Adam, Steve Wait, CEO of the Business Centre, a not-for-profit organisation that’s been working in the Hunter with start-ups, growth businesses for about 34 years.

The start-up express began like many things, with a small idea about how can we better get an appreciation of what type of innovation we witness and see everyday in our region. But, Connecting that innovation and those innovators up to what we have to acknowledge are the more sophisticated capital markets and research capabilities that do exist in metropolitan centres, but by reverse to also attract some of those investors and people that support innovation back out to the opportunities of the region as well. 

Plenty of good innovators, good ideas and entrepreneurs have always been in the regions. 

Adam:

Ratings & reviews help to keep us going and they help more people discover our stories. You can rate the show on most podcast platforms by going to ratedayone.com. That’s ratedayone.com to leave a rating on the podcast.

And, Thank you for giving this episode of Welcome to Day One your attention. This episode was created by me, Adam Spencer.

Interviews conducted by me, Adam Spencer.

A big thank you to Daniel & Alicia Edge for taking the time to be involved. Thanks also goes to the University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network for partnering with Welcome to Day One to bring you this story. 

The script was written by me, Adam Spencer.

Music by Lee Rosevere, full attribution on our website welcometodayone.com

This episode was produced by me, Adam Spencer and edited by Natalie Holland.

Thank you and see you next time!

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Credits

A big thank you to Daniel & Alicia Edge for taking the time to be involved. Thanks also goes to the University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network for partnering with Welcome to Day One to bring you this story. 

Music Credits

Music by Lee Rosevere

Title: Let’s Start at the Beginning

Source: Let’s Start at the Beginning 

Licence: CC BY 4.0

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