Former TeamGB swimmers, Charlie Turner and Lee Forster founded Neat Nutrition just over a year ago to bring their passion for nutrition and healthy living to people outside the usual bodybuilder’s circuit. Cutting through the overcrowded and niche health food market, Neat Nutrition’s line of natural, premium supplements now reaches over 8.5 million customers across 10 countries from Hong Kong to Russia, through their recent partnership with Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter. We speak with Lee Forster on their start-up journey.
What does your business do?
Our core focus is to provide all-natural supplements to the world. We set up the business to challenge the traditional, over-complex market with a lot of jargon and buzzwords, and the association of the term “health food” with athletes and bodybuilders.
Simplicity is very high on the list, as is dispelling common myths, and opening up the knowledge base that nutrition is for everyone.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Charlie and I have known each other for many years when we were full-time athletes. We had this amazing network of people around us with wealth of information and knowledge. I retired and worked at a big management consulting company, and a lot of people would ask me questions about nutrition when they were trying to get in shape or train for a triathlon. That’s when I realised we have an amazing wealth of knowledge that we should really share. Years later, we realised the market was ripe for something new. It was a big market, but with too much focus on gym-goers; not really for people who work in the city, who may not have time, but definitely have the interest to get healthy. We worked on our products but we pushed our launch date back by six months because we wanted to perfect our product before bringing it to market.
How did you know there was a market for it?
A lot of people go down the traditional and well-trodden aspects of the market, hitting hardcore gym-goers. Our tag line is ‘nutrition for every lifestyle’. We’re promoting supplements for anyone; from a new mum who has just started working out again through to someone who works at a job that keeps them very busy. Instead of reaching for a croissant in the morning, they have the option to make a healthy smoothie instead.
We’ve built great partnerships with Lululemon, and now Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter–brands with strong communities. Working with them, we have the benefit of having created a better, cleaner all-natural product.
How did you raise funding, and why?
We most definitely bootstrapped it all the way. Myself and Charlie worked very hard, from retiring from sport and starting the business. It’s been a really interesting ride, self-funding to get the business off the ground and there on out. We’ve been very lean so it’s definitely served us well.
Describe your business model in brief.
Our business model is primarily an e-commerce retail platform. We had a rule from day one that we won’t go to large bricks-and-mortar retailers, as it may take us back to the mass market level, alongside generic brands. We said no to a lot of big national retailers, but we are working with really cool studios and fitness concepts, like Equinox, Third Space, Core Collective. We also work with a healthy-eating cafe in Glasgow, taking a great bite into the lunchtime market there, competing with the Eats and Prets of the world. It’s really interesting to have the opportunity to work with these partners, because you actually get to see the shifts in trends.
We will be launching our own cafe within the Lululemon store on Regent Street this Thursday. That will become another arm for the business and our first physical location. It’ll be within the Community Hub, called the Neat Nutrition Cafe. This gives us a great opportunity to have a physical location and expand how we’re offering our products.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
Whenever you listen to people who talk about businesses and start-ups, you always hear about how great it is to survive that first year of business. To me, it always sounded a bit cliched, but you’re in the thick of it as a self-funded business trying to succeed and grow and move. When we celebrated our first year, I thought ‘let’s not get carried away, but this is amazing!’ We have a really solid first year of trading under our belt. We’ve expanded quickly, we’ve hired staff, got our office. It’s certainly the hardest milestone to get to, but it’s enjoyable.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
There’s a big difference between understanding that there are obstacles in your path and letting that overwhelm you, and acknowledging these obstacles but still knowing what makes your business great. Far too many people spend too much time writing long and detailed business plans, but some of it is about rolling with the punches. You learn how to evaluate risk well as you go. There are definitely issues that you need to be mindful of, but I always ask myself if the benefits outweigh the risk, and take it from there.
Having set this up in my 30s, I’ve felt that some time and experience of working in other big and small businesses can help. If you’ve got a great idea, taking that leap of faith is the hardest thing, but don’t be afraid to say no.
Yes, you want to say whatever it takes to get that deal, but overenthusiastic about it. In terms of the partnerships with fitness studios, for example, we’ve said no to three times as many businesses than those we’ve worked with. It keeps you knowing who you are , what you’re about and what you want to achieve. Saying no doesn’t mean you’re missing an opportunity; just that this particular opportunity isn’t right for you.
Saying no to the likes of Superdrug and Waitrose for example, was really tough, but it has been the best decision for us to establish ourselves as a great natural and premium brand.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
My biggest desire will be that I won’t be able to answer that question. I really hope I don’t know what to expect in five years. If you told me 20 months ago on our first day of trading that we’ll be opening a store in Regent Street, I wouldn’t believe you. I hope there are 20 more surprises in store in the next few years.
Overall, I’d love us to be the go-to brand for good quality nutrition and knowledge for anyone interested in health and wellness, from a food supplement, workout and rehabilitation perspective. If we keep to the principles we know and love, then I think we’ve got no bounds to expansion in terms of markets around the world.
What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?
My mentality has always been there’s always a solution. It’s not easy, but it helps you work harder to keep fostering what you want from the business.