Melbourne couple Sarah and Nic decided to start a little “side project” which unexpectedly turned into a beautiful flourishing matcha family. Their two main businesses are Matcha Maiden and Matcha Mylkbar (the crazy, exciting specialty matcha and plant-based café with all the rainbow lattes, green burgers and vegan eggs). In this interview, Sarah and Nic share what it’s like to fall into business, how they overcome hurdles and what’s in the future for their Matcha empire.
Tell us a bit about what you do now and your journey to get there.
Sarah: I started my working life in a very different context as a corporate mergers and acquisitions lawyer at an international law firm. Nic was already in the entrepreneurial world with several businesses under his belt, including his own full-service creative and digital agency and an enterprise software development tech company, but he had never ventured into food, hospitality or retail before. We are both quite passionate about health, fitness and well being and I particularly was finding this hard to reconcile with the long hours and lifestyle in the legal profession. So we started Matcha Maiden as a creative outlet and a way to spend more time together – never expecting to end up where we are today.
We discovered matcha on several of our overseas adventures – firstly in its traditional context in Japan and later in the USA in the health food arena. When we got home, we were surprised to find that Australia was a little bit late to the matcha party despite its very strong health food market. We were unable to find a product that was at once organic, reasonably priced and well branded – everything was either too expensive and not very palatable or too cheap and not very high quality. So we decided to find our own middle ground blend and started Matcha Maiden when we were only able to find it in bulk and realized we had to do something with the leftovers.
We’ve since grown Matcha Maiden into a global matcha family of over 80,000 followers and 1000 stockists around the world. I left my job after we locked in our first big USA contract with Urban Outfitters. Nic has continued to grow his other businesses as well, but I now work solely on Matcha Maiden and Matcha Mylkbar. So we have a very bright green future ahead.
How do you set goals? Do you follow a specific process?
Sarah: I set New Year’s resolutions at the start of each year and then check in every month to see how I’m going. I’m a big fan of writing things down in a goals journal (MiGOALS, obviously) or diary so that you can visualise what you’re working towards and come back to it every now and then to track your progress. I like to break things down into baby steps too and assign a timeline to each step, so it never seems too overwhelming and you can work your way through bit by bit.
I guess the process is different depending on what kind of goal it is, but I find that writing things down helps me stay really clear on what it is that I’m trying to achieve. I come back to my notes regularly and will add or adapt things along the way. I like to put up post-its around our house with little triggers or affirmations to remind me of little things I can do each day to move forwards too.
Plus, of course, celebrating each small win along the way helps to keep you motivated and inspired. And sometimes, having a goal buddy can really help or even just telling someone about your goal to keep yourself accountable, particularly with fitness goals.
What do you do when you hit a roadblock or things aren’t going right?
Nic: Especially working with tech so much, I come up against some pretty frustrating roadblocks and speed humps every day. I used to just try to push through and ended up wasting a lot of time that way. Now, it really helps me to just cut my losses, get up and do something else for a little while to get some distance from the problem before I try to tackle it. I either swap from working on one business to the other or will take some time out for the gym or to walk our Golden Retriever, Paul.
Sometimes you can get so overcome by a problem or mental block that it’s better to just move on for a while and come back to it when you have a clearer mind and a bit of perspective on things. Once I can sit down and really get into the problem, it always helps to break things down into an action plan so I know where to start (because sometimes that’s the hardest part is just knowing what to do first).
What’s one habit you credit with getting you to where you are now?
Nic: I’m a pretty competitive person, which was probably not my best feature as a teenager but in my adult life I think it’s worked to my advantage. Before my entrepreneurial life, I was an international 400m hurdler and my athletics career helped me develop a healthy level of competitiveness not only with my fellow athletes but also with myself. I’ve always been very goal oriented and like to push myself to my limits, constantly trying to improve my performance and hit new milestones. This carried over from my athletics career to my businesses and has helped me stay focused and driven.
I don’t like to let myself get complacent and am constantly learning new things, developing new ideas and setting new goals across all the businesses as well as personally. Competing with your former self is a good way to ensure you never spend too long in the comfort zone.
What keeps you awake at night?
Nic: Basically everything from the above question!
I’m an ideas person and get really carried away with my thoughts, so it’s not surprising that I’m not a great sleeper. I feel like my mind is a computer with a million tabs open at once – it’s really hard to switch off when you have such a busy brain. I’m always thinking of new things we could do or ways we could improve and with five businesses to apply that to, I spend many a night laying wide awake buzzing.
Who or what inspires you the most?
Sarah: I think both of us take inspiration from many different sources whether it be people we know, role models we don’t know, stories, quotes, etc.
It sounds a bit soppy, but since moving into the entrepreneurial world my biggest inspiration has actually been Nic. Coming from the corporate world, I had absolutely no idea about anything business related and Nic has taught me everything I know about how to run your own show. His experience and wisdom in planning, innovating, expanding and learning has really influenced my transition and helped me find my way.
Surprisingly, most of what he knows is self-taught and he continues to read widely and educate himself to expand his mind and never stop growing, which is endlessly inspiring to me. I’m also a huge fan of motivational quotes to give a little boost of positivity and energy throughout the day, so I have these plastered all over everything in my workspace (as well as filed neatly in my mind – I’ve got one for any and every occasion!)
What is your favourite quote or saying?
Sarah: "Be who you are and say what you feel because the people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind." – Dr Seuss.
What tool, tech or app are you loving right now?
Nic: I’m a huge tech geek so I’m always experimenting with new things in that space. Juggling so many different businesses and staff members can be quiet challenging to manage, so my favourites at the moment are Asana and Slack. These are both project management and communications tools that have dramatically changed the way our teams work and lifted our productivity. I highly recommend you try them out if you’re looking for a way to streamline your workflow and keep in touch with your team.
Describe one big goal you have set for 2017.
To open another Matcha Mylkbar venue!