Life before Myprotein ® – part two

By on April 5, 2013
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Another question that I get asked a lot is “do I feel an entrepreneur is born?” My answer is simply “no”. I believe an entrepreneur is not born, but moulded by their environment, with circumstance and surroundings instilling the essential characteristics to be successful.

Like many entrepreneurs I am driven by independence and supported by varying degrees of knowledge, executive skills and a true burning passion. Further, it is the varying level of each of those traits that determines me. Having said that, I know my weaknesses as well as my strengths. I think that is essential for any budding entrepreneurs to take note of. It took me a while to figure that out!

Starting Myprotein.com

I can’t say for sure that only the driven will succeed, I was driven and that was a key driver for me, I didn’t rest when I got my day job I kept striving and pushing myself… I always wanted more and I still do.

So off the back of the ‘office job’ apprenticeship and several ‘how to’ books I taught myself to develop websites, all in my spare time, evenings, weekends over the course of six months enabling me to apply for my next job in a large national organisation.

This position became my staple over the next few months. I worked as a contractor for some of the biggest multi-national companies helping them develop their “dot com strategy”, and that of course helped me hone my skills and selling ability.

It also earned me a very good income, considering I was in my early 20s, and enabled me to buy my first house in Edgeley, a small working class town in Stockport, Greater Manchester. A defining moment for me, my first step on the ladder, something I worked for on my own.

16 hour days

Building any business is a labour of love and long hours. Most of the early days were 16 hours long when building Myprotein.com not just because I had to, but also because I wanted to. I wanted to be successful and knew I would succeed if I worked the long hours.

And, you know what? I enjoyed it! If you didn’t enjoy it, there is no way you could be as committed as I was, it would be impossible.

Spotting an opportunity

I loved to train and trained four times a week in the free weights room at David Lloyd in Cheadle. I supplemented with protein, creatine and a few other vitamins and minerals. The basics really. If I’m honest I didn’t fully understand about supplements, it was just what I was advised to use by various magazines and friends down the gym, I guess like most people who first start to train and use supplements.

I was now 23 and ever since I could remember I wanted to start my own business, I knew I would, I just didn’t know what sector it would be in! Not long after using supplements from what was the leading brand at the time I saw an opportunity within the space.

The eureka moment for Myprotein.com

Another question I get asked a lot “what was your eureka moment?” Well mine was simply this; I was looking at the back of my staple protein powder and on reading the ingredients list (I have always had a curious mind) I wondered what exactly was ‘whey protein?’ as that seemed to be the ‘active ingredient’, the rest of the ingredients were flavourings, thickeners and such like. After doing some research online I found “whey protein” was a by-product of cheese.

Following on from that I decided to ring around cheese dairies and commodity traders and after many conversations I found that buying whey protein direct would cost me roughly £3/kg (this price has risen considerably year or year) and after a few more well phone calls I realised I could purchase flavouring, sweeteners and packaging for a total of roughly £5/kg!

I was currently paying over £25 for less than a kilo for my existing product! I can still remember thinking to this day – “there is some margin in that!” It felt like a chime ringing in my head. I was genuinely excited.

I remember telling a family and friends about it and I’m not sure anyone fully believed in it like I did, I was 100% focused on making it a success. One funny story is I remember telling my mate Tony “T2P” and showing him the sample products I had. He said something to the effect  of “it will never work and I should stop wasting my time.”.  We still laugh and joke about it to this day.

Over-priced supplements

After more research in the area I found that not only were the supplements overpriced, the messaging and branding was confusing. I knew the health and fitness market was only going in one direction and spotted the early signs of a trend developing. Consumers wanted to read more about the “nutritionals” and benefits of products in plain English and then make an informed choice on fact. They also wanted to pay fair prices for products that suited their own personal needs.

By buying the raw materials in bulk, manufacturing products myself (I used a 50 litre tub and a big spoon in the early days for mixing) and selling direct to the consumer, I could cut out the middlemen and provide the personalisation and prices I felt customers were crying out for.

The Myprotein.com name

I think naming the business “Myprotein” was one of the better things I did in the early days. There are many considerations when naming your company and you can pay big money to a branding agency to do just that. I wanted a name that was relevant, as this would make it memorable. The key to any name – simple or complex, abstract or descriptive – is grabbing attention and staying memorable. The name had to be full of meaning and for me Myprotein® was just that it delivered the brand’s story in a word…

The name was born out of what the brand represented ‘MY’ ‘protein’ – essentially protein for you and your nutritional requirements. ‘The Customiser’ enabled the consumer to build a formula using the raw nutritional ingredients exactly how they would want it. Being able to make your own blend was one of the key USPs when I launched. It really was ‘Myprotein®’ – hence the name!

So with five years of commercial Internet experience I played to my strengths and sold direct to the consumer. My web development knowledge meant I could do everything myself from building the website to setting up payment accounts for customers, mixing the ingredients, packaging and even cleaning up at the end of the day.

I lived and breathed Myprotein® in the companies early years, laying the foundations for growth and building a loyal customer base. The response by customers to Myprotein.com’s products was overwhelming and word spread on the forums, an area where I still remain constantly active.

Social what?

While many companies have only really just started to embrace the buzzword of social media, it was in very early 2005 that I set up the Myprotein.com online forum. From day one I believed in ‘consumer led’ decisions and the Myprotein.com forum provided the perfect platform to engage with and hear the views of customers; I was truly “on the pulse” of what the customer wanted and this helped shape the business and I believe those early customers really appreciated this approach. Something we will be doing a lot more with GN™.

This model remained throughout the businesses growth. To this day, Myprotein® buy in bulk, manufacture in-house and sell direct online to the customer (the “customiser” was taken offline in around 2008 due to production bottlenecks). However, innovation was behind much of the success at Myprotein and I shall talk about this next time in my next post!

If anyone has any questions please do ask, I really appreciate all the positive feedback I have received.

Cheers,
Oliver

About Oliver Cookson

GoNutrition® founder and CEO Oliver Cookson is a UK entrepreneur most noted for having established the successful sports nutrition business Myprotein. In 2011 Cookson sold Myprotein and has since gone on to establish GoNutrition®.